PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins erased a three-goal first period deficit against the Boston Bruins on Sunday afternoon to pick up a 4-3 win. The Penguins have shown an ability to rally all season, but their first period performance on Sunday, combined with the dominance of the Bruins, made it seem like this one might be a little too much to overcome.
It was not.
Here is how they did it.
1. Matt Murray and Jack Johnson bounced back
Murray and Johnson were at the center of the Penguins’ early struggles on Sunday as Boston jumped out to a 2-0 lead just two minutes into the game.
The first goal came just 11 seconds into the game when Johnson got caught out of position and left Patrice Bergeron wide open for a shot that he buried behind Murray. Two minutes later, Anders Bjork took advantage of another defensive breakdown to score his eighth goal of the season.
Just after that Murray received a mock cheer from the sellout crowd when he stopped a rolling puck from the neutral zone. Things only got worse when David Pastrnak scored his 37th goal of the season thanks to some help from Johnson who accidentally knocked Pastrnak’s centering attempt into his own net.
“I had a feeling [Pastrnak] was going to throw it across the goal line to the guy on the backside,” said Johnson. “You have to try and stop it and lay it in the pads. You can’t let it go through or deflect it into the slot. It’s a tough bounce.”
It would have been easy for Penguins coach Mike Sullivan to make a goaltending change at that point but he decided to stick with Murray. He was rewarded for it. Murray was not only perfect for the remainder of the game, he actually finished with a very strong .918 save percentage and made some huge saves in the second and third period to keep the Penguins in it.
He has been relegated to backup duty for most of the past two months behind All-Star Tristan Jarry. But the Penguins know they will need both goalies this season and have tried to get Murray more playing time recently to get him back on track. He has now won each of his past four starts with strong numbers.
While Murray was bouncing back in net, Johnson made up for his first period own goal by scoring the game-tying goal early in the third period with a booming shorthanded slap shot.
2. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin dominated
The Penguins’ superstar center duo did not finish with huge numbers (Crosby had two assists; Malkin had one assist) but there was no denying the impact they had on this game.
Crosby helped start the Penguins’ rally late in the first period when he set up Dominik Simon for the Penguins’ first goal.
Just 33 seconds into the second period he added another ridiculous pass to his highlight reel when he did this.
Crosby now has eight points in four games since returning to the lineup.
Malkin, meanwhile, was a constant threat all day and finally made an impact on the scoreboard when he set up Bryan Rust on this play late in the third period.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan praised Malkin’s effort and the message it sends to the rest of the team.
“Malkin made a great play on the game-winner.” said Sullivan. “He gets in on the forecheck, it’s just a hard-working goal. When you have one of your best players and a leader like that step up, it speaks volumes for the leadership of the group.”
The bad news for the Penguins’ forwards on Sunday is that Simon and Dominik Kahun both exited the game with injuries.
3. The Bruins lost another three-goal lead
This is something that just does not happen to the Bruins.
Consider this stat from NHL.com’s Wes Crosby when the Bruins jumped out to their three-goal lead.
The Bruins are 200-1-6 when leading by at least three goals since 2010-11.
— Wes Crosby (@OtherNHLCrosby) January 19, 2020
The concerning thing here is three of those now eight losses (one regulation and two overtime) have come since Nov. 1 of this season.
They lost in a shootout to the Florida Panthers on Nov. 12 after holding a 4-0 lead. This past week they had a 5-2 second period lead over the Philadelphia Flyers before allowing that to slip away, again losing in a shootout. Then on Sunday they turned a 3-0 first period lead into a 4-3 regulation defeat.
The Bruins are still in a good position in the Atlantic Division with a six-point lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning, but there are some issues here. For one, Tampa Bay is gaining ground fast. There is also the fact that Boston has cooled off considerably over the past couple of months and is just 8-7-7 in its past 22 games.