Jared McCann, Penguins cool off Bruins for key victory
While most NHL players fall somewhere between tolerating and actively hating it, Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jared McCann said he actually likes playing games on back-to-back days.
“You almost feel better the second game. You feel like you’re still in it from the first one,” McCann said.
He proved it Sunday night.
McCann scored two goals, including a highlight-reel, short-handed backhander in the first period, helping the Penguins bounce back from a loss in Columbus the night before to beat the red-hot Boston Bruins, 4-2, at PPG Paints Arena.
“We didn’t really play our best in Columbus,” McCann said. “We knew we had to come out with a solid effort. The whole team came to play tonight.”
The win was important in the tight Eastern Conference playoff race. The Penguins moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division, two points behind the New York Islanders and four points up on the Carolina Hurricanes and Blue Jackets.
The most impressive aspect of the victory, though, was probably who it came against.
The Bruins were the hottest team in the league, having won six in a row and going 15-0-4 in their previous 19 games. The Penguins handed them their first regulation loss since Jan. 19.
“Two points is two points at this point in the season, but definitely against a good team, that’s good for the psyche,” center Nick Bjugstad said. “That’s a deep squad that has been doing well for a reason.”
The Penguins used a dominant first period, another strong performance from goalie Matt Murray and a timely power-play goal to put down the Bruins.
The Penguins outshot Boston, 13-3, and took a 2-0 lead in the first 14 minutes of the game.
Bjugstad whacked in a puck at the net front after a strong forechecking shift by linemates Patric Hornqvist and Dominik Simon in the first two minutes.
McCann’s short-handed goal came about 12 minutes later. He knocked a puck away from David Krejci inside the blue line, and Teddy Blueger poked it ahead to start a breakaway. McCann used a nifty backhand move to shovel the puck past goalie Jaroslav Halak.
“The harder you kind of fake it, the more he has to respect it,” McCann said. “I was just trying to fake it as hard as I could, and he bit on it.”
McCann has five goals and eight points in his last seven games. Bjugstad has three goals in his last six. The trade that brought them to the Penguins from Florida early last month is starting to look like a steal.
“I think both of these guys are excited to be Penguins, and they’re excited about the roles that we’ve put them in,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “They’ve done a great job for us.”
Murray, meanwhile, made 39 saves playing on back-to-back days for the second time this season. He has started eight consecutive games, going 5-2-1 with a .933 save percentage during the span.
“Unbelievable for him to play all those games, especially back-to-back,” Bjugstad said.
Despite the Penguins’ early advantage and excellent goaltending, the Bruins got within one on a Krejci power-play goal and were threatening to tie the score late in the second period.
That’s when the Penguins power play, which was ineffective in its first four tries on the night, struck. Sidney Crosby set up Jake Guentzel on a two-on-one to make it 3-1.
It came after Sullivan split up his top power-play unit.
“We felt our top unit wasn’t getting traction, and it wasn’t just this game. It’s been a handful,” Sullivan said. “At some point, the coaches feel compelled to step in and try to affect some change.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .