Penguins extend winning streak to 9
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Penguins lost their best defenseman, they used their backup goaltender and they struggled to generate offense.
They also extended their winning streak to nine games, beating the Boston Bruins 2-1 before a record-setting crowd of 18,659 at Consol Energy Center Sunday afternoon.
Joe Vitale’s first goal of the season proved to be the game-winner as the Penguins prevailed in a typically tight-checking game against the tenacious Bruins.
“There’s not a lot out there,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “They’re not going to give up a lot of odd-man chances.”
They didn’t, but the Penguins made the most of their limited opportunities.
They played the last two periods without defenseman Kris Letang, who left the game with 1:26 left in the first period following contact with Brad Marchand behind the net. The Penguins said Letang had a lower body injury that was being further evaluated.
Letang’s early exit left the Penguins with five defensemen as the team played on consecutive days and for the third time in four days. That was a tall task against a physical Bruins team.
“They did an awesome job,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “They were challenged, and they really helped us.”
One of the defensemen who stepped up was Brooks Orpik, who wound up with seven hits and six blocked shots. Orpik also made the breakout pass that led to Vitale’s goal with 42 seconds left in the first period.
Craig Adams took a shot that grazed the leg of Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference, causing the puck to change direction enough to handcuff goalie Tuukka Rask. In the confusion, the rebound of Adams’ shot was in the crease for the hard-charging Vitale to lift under the crossbar.
“Joe has a ton of speed and you saw it there,” Bylsma said. “That was a big goal for our team, and it was great to see.”
Vitale, who’s been a healthy scratch five times and a fourth-liner when he plays, had gone 37 games without a goal.
“It’s not frustrating at all,” Vitale said of the drought. “We know our duty.”
That assignment became the same for the rest of the Penguins through the rest of the game: Focus on goal prevention. That’s been a point of emphasis since the March 7 game in Philadelphia when the Penguins spotted the Flyers a 4-1 lead. The Penguins have allowed just five goals in the last five games.
“It’s just attention to detail,” Vitale said. “We’ve been more patient. Protect our house.”
The Bruins held a 21-8 edge on shots over the last two periods, but goalie Tomas Vokoun stopped them all.
“He was strong in the net and we really needed it,” Bylsma said.
Vokoun had no chance on the Bruins’ only goal. Johnny Boychuk’s shot took a crazy carom off Patrice Bergeron and deflected to Tyler Seguin, who put it in the open net at 16:38 of the first period.
That offset the goal Sidney Crosby had scored at 12:06. Crosby, who had been blanked in the two previous games, scored after Pascal Dupuis won a puck battle against Zdeno Chara behind the net.
“I had a lot of net to look at,” Crosby said. “It was a good start.”
Bylsma revised the team’s schedule to give the players today off.
The winning streak is the fifth longest in franchise history. … The Penguins have won seven of the last eight games against the Bruins. … Boston’s David Krejci was forced to leave the game after he took Boychuk’s shot on his right knee. … The Penguins have also won 14 of the last 17. … The next game is against Washington at home Tuesday at 7:35 p.m.