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Penguins

Penguins punish Bruins for ninth straight victory

| Monday, March 12, 2012

By the time Sunday's showdown at Consol Energy Center was complete, Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara had been pounded into submission and four of his teammates had departed with injuries.

The Penguins beat the Big, Bad Bruins at their own game in a 5-2 victory. In fact, they've beaten lots of good teams at their own games lately, now having won nine straight.

"We can play different types of games against different opponents," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.

Against the Bruins — viewed by many as the league's most physical team — the Penguins didn't back down, but initiated contact from the game's opening minutes.

The Penguins' target was the biggest man on the ice, Chara, who towers at 6-feet-9. He was knocked down twice by right wing James Neal and twice by left wing Chris Kunitz. Other Penguins, notably left wing Matt Cooke, walloped Chara, who was a game-worst minus-3, throughout the contest.

"You've got to be physical against him," said right wing Arron Asham, who gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead 3:24 into the first period.

"Our goal was to chip it in his corner and try to hit him. It's tough when a guy's... seven feet tall and 260 pounds. You don't see him on the ice very often, but he was on the ice four or five times today. It takes a lot out of a big guy."

Neal found himself in the penalty box early in the first for a shot against Chara, but the Penguins hardly altered their formula. They continued to punish Chara — the Penguins have allowed two power-play goals since Jan. 31, so the risk of a penalty wasn't about to stop them—• throughout the contest, and in the final minutes, the Bruins had the look of a fatigued team. The offensive surge they displayed in the second period was gone during the final 20 minutes.

"It was like body shots in boxing," Asham said. "Eventually a guy is going to wear down. We were trying to chop him down slowly. The guys did a great job."

The Bruins played Saturday afternoon at home against Washington and had their chances for a comeback wounded when four players — defenseman Johnny Boychuk, center Patrice Bergeron, center Max Sauve and defenseman Adam McQuaid — left for portions of the game with injuries. Boston produced a dominant stretch in November and December, going on a 21-3-1 run, but has played indifferent hockey since and is perhaps showing signs of playing into June last season.

The Bruins are 16-15-2 since Jan. 1.

The Penguins, conversely, are on a 21-4-1 run and looked fast and fresh throughout. Their ability to physically control Chara was further evidence that Bylsma's system is clicking and that the Penguins are controlling all facets during their winning streak.

"When we're playing well," right wing Craig Adams said, "we're finishing our checks. Anyone who is out there as often as Chara, you want to be physical. He can be so dominant. With him, it's more volume of hits. Not too many are going to affect him. He can just be so dominant."

The Penguins' flurry of shots to the Bruins' captain finally took their toll.

Neal, Kunitz, Asham, right wing Pascal Dupuis and defenseman Matt Niskanen scored for the Penguins. Center Evgeni Malkin took the NHL scoring lead with three assists.

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury continued his stellar play by stopping 34 of 36 shots.

"This is big," Fleury said. "Our team just has so much confidence right now."

This game, however, was a team effort. And the Penguins' goal was to physically disrupt the Bruins at every opportunity.

Knowing they can beat the league's best teams in every possible way —• being tough against the physical Bruins, winning a 2-0 struggle with the defensive-minded Rangers and winning a 6-4 shootout with the high-flying Flyers during the past month — is giving them as much confidence as the fact that they've won nine straight.

And they could be welcoming captain Sidney Crosby back into the lineup Thursday in New York for a showdown with the conference-leading Rangers.

"We've got a special group here," Asham said. "We can play a rough game. We can play a finesse game. We'll play any way."

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