On Tuesdays, NBC Sports Network airs its weekly rivals special in preparation for the rivalry game the following evening. When analysts spoke about the "bitter rivalry" between the Penguins and the Bruins, Pens fans were right to giggle.
The Philadelphia Flyers. The Washington Capitals. The New York Rangers. Those are the Pens' bitter rivals. NBC was only playing up the still-too-recent Eastern Conference Final that sent the Cup-favorite Penguins home, many said.
It's the absolute truth. However, there is something brewing between these two teams that's looking more and more permanent with every match up. It wasn't a playoff game, but it was no ordinary October game either. In comparison to the Flyers game earlier in the month, this game was infinitely more entertaining.
It wasn't gearing up to be that way with the injured list growing with every game. Chuck Kobasew, injured in the previous game against Carolina, would be replaced by Dustin Jeffrey who did...well, absolutely nothing (literally, check the stats). And we, of course, never know who's battling through an injury. In short, the Pens felt like a vulnerable team coming into this game, and not just physically. We all watched as the Pens' discipline unhinged in the ECF and with the recent three loses still fresh, who knows where the Pens would be mentally.
The game started eerily similar to Game 1. The Pens established their territory in the offensive zone, but the crease had Tuukka Rask's name all over it. Evgeni Malkin looked ready to avenge the ECF; he was having his way with the puck, but not with Rask. The flashbacks were returning full force, but the biggest difference was the Pens didn't lose their cool. The goals weren't coming, but it didn't show in their game in a negative way. The Pens dictated the play through the first two periods pretty soundly.
Other than Malkin, Jayson Megna was really turning heads and showing just what kind of talent is waiting in the wings for when the injury bug bites. It always seems to be this terrible tease: We get to watch these young guns show their stuff and then get sent back down like they've missed multiple assignments. It's the way the NHL rolls, but the brevity of these rookie stints seems to make their game all the more special.
There is something to be said about rookies who fully take advantage of their time called up to the NHL, even though they know there's little to no chance to keep that spot permanently. Megna really has been something else when he takes the ice. I don't know if it's adrenaline, the fact that the Bruins don't have any tape on him, or if Megna is really that skilled of a player, but he was getting the best chances out of anyone in the first period and he missed a significant chunk of time to repair a cut from a high stick. This is a guy who was making a beeline for the net and had opportunities point blank on Rask. With the speed at which he plays the game, I wouldn't be surprised to see Megna on Crosby's line in a few year's time. He has the hands to collect Crosby's impossible passes and he has the speed to keep up with him. Can't ask for much more.
The Pens were given their first power play of the game at the end of the second, and what do you know, Rask can be solved. Parked right in front of Rask, Chris Kunitz collected a redirected pass from Kris Letang and put the puck through his and Rask's legs. It was the Pens' first lead over the Bruins in what felt like years.
Didn't matter since Patrice Bergeron tied it up at the start of the third period which successfully tilted the ice in Boston's favor. Things started getting a little scrappy with the Robert Bortuzzo / Jordan Caron fight and then the most bizarre embellishment and slashing call of the season (neither of which made sense). The Pens were on their second power play at the time and while they didn't cash in on the man advantage, Brandon Sutter decided to strike 17 seconds after the fact. Brooks Orpik sent a pass to Pascal Dupuis in the neutral zone who only had one hand on his stick. It didn't matter that he couldn't collect the puck, because it changed directions and fooled the pants off Torey Krug who was following the puck instead of Sutter. Sutter had him beat with a perfect first touch followed by a perfectly placed shot that would have hit iron if it was an inch higher. Check out the last goal Sutter registered. You might notice a similarity.
And then Jussi Jokinen sniped one by Rask for good measure...and because the Pens can't go more than a few games without him scoring. Very understated play by Joe Vitale whose pursuit of the puck forced Dennis Seidenberg's pass to Caron which was immediately stripped away by Jussi Jokinen. Three seconds later, the Pens had a two-goal lead.
Fun fact: Kunitz's and Sutter's goals from the ECF and Jokinen's and Sutter's goals Wednesday, four of the last five goals the Pens have scored against Rask, were all on the blocker side. Hopefully they keep this in mind next game.
Jarome Iginla made the game interesting in the final minutes when he scored with the Bruins' net empty, but the Pens held the fort and walked away with two points.
This win felt good not because it was some vengeance against the team that booted us in the playoffs, but because the Pens had to really battle to get the win. They had to dig deep to beat the Bruins' tight defense and solve Rask, despite questions of the Pens' abilities against strong opponents.
With that game, the Pens close their first month of the season with the record 9-4. We saw some good stretches of hockey, but there's still much to improve. And hopefully no more injuries.
Home-at-home games coming up this Friday and Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets.