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Underrated star of Penguins win vs. Bruins: The penalty killing unit

They made huge plays at two huge moments.

NHL: Boston Bruins at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It was embarrassing. It was a joke. It was insulting.

Everyone involved should be completely embarrassed with themselves.

No, that is not directed at the fans for giving Matt Murray the ol’ Bronx Cheer on Sunday, but the officiating tandem of Kelly Sutherland and Francois St. Laurent for having what seemed to be zero interest in doing their jobs in officiating a hockey game. Yes, it is low-hanging fruit to go at on-ice officials (low-hanging fruit still tastes sweet, though!), and I understand that is a hard job to try and perfectly call everything that happens in a fast, chaotic game. It is especially easy to second guess when you are sitting high in the rafters with a birds-eye view of everything and not actually on the ice trying to keep with everything while having all of the responsibility.

But, it still needs to be said, that was an embarrassment yesterday. The number of things that went uncalled yesterday was a textbook example of everything that is wrong with NHL officiating.

The way St. Laurent casually stood lounged against the boards while he watched Andrew Agozzino (and I am sorry, I can not recall who the Bruins player was) wrestle 160 feet away from the puck without calling anything.

The way Kelly Sutherland did the same thing while Kris Letang and Brad Marchand did the same thing.

During one incredible sequence, David Pastrnak grabbed hold of Sidney Crosby’s stick after a huge hit, which was quickly followed by Teddy Blueger blatantly cross-checking a Bruin in the back at center ice.

In the third period, both officials watched as Letang slashed the stick out of a Bruins puck-carrier to no call. That is one of the rare penalties in the NHL that is called fairly regularly. It went uncalled on two different occasions on Sunday, including that one.

It is a wonder that anything was actually called on Sunday — but there was!

Both times the Penguins ended up being sent to the box (Blueger for a pretty soft hooking call, and Letang for an even softer elbowing call on Marchand) their penalty killing unit came through in a big way. So big, in fact, that they may have been the most overlooked difference-makers in the game.

The first penalty kill was significant because of the timing.

Blueger’s penalty late in the first period came just a couple of minutes after Dominik Simon scored to get the Penguins on the board. A power play goal by the Bruins late in the period to recapture the three-goal lead would have been crushing to any momentum the Penguins may have been starting to build. They not only shut the Bruins’ power play down, they did not allow them to get a single shot on goal before the period expired.

They were equally effective on the carryover to start the second period.

Just after the PK ended, Blueger stepped out of the box, immediately forced a turnover by Marchand, and started the play back in the opposite direction. An odd-man rush, a betwee-the-legs pass by Sidney Crosby to a wide open Blueger in front, and a quick show of hands by Blueger himself and suddenly the Penguins were right back in the game.

The second penalty kill really started to swing things.

You could sense something brewing between Letang and Marchand all day, and it seemed inevitable that one of them would take a penalty against the other as emotions reached a boiling point. It ended up being Letang taking the penalty. The call itself was weak because, as Letang pointed out after the game, he already committed to his check and Marchand ducked out of the way to draw the elbowing call. It was, again, another moment that could swing the game back in Boston’s favor.

But the Penguins’ penalty kill not only shut down the Bruins’ power play again (Murray actually had to make a couple of saves on this one), they tied the game on a shorthanded goal from, of all people, Jack Johnson to complete the day of redemption for him and Murray. While Murray heard it from the fans, it was Johnson that was probably the biggest culprit on two of the three goals, including the one that he literally put in his own net. He needed to redeem himself, and he did.

The play itself was a thing of beauty to watch unfold from up above because you could see it coming from a mile away. Somehow the Bruins had three players get trapped behind the net, resulting in a clear-cut 3-on-2 rush for the Penguins that started below their own face-off dots ... on the penalty kill. How does this even happen?

As they kept moving up the ice you knew exactly how this play was going to unfold. Tanev Blueger would drive to the net and take out the defenders, create a lane for Johnson, Tanev would make the pass, and then it would all be on the stick of Johnson to do something with it. Did he ever. He went old school 1980s slap shot and crushed the shit out of it to beat Jaroslav Halak on the short side to tie the game. At that point, you had to believe the Penguins were actually going to win the game. No exaggeration, it may have been Johnson’s finest moment as a Penguin so far.

There are a lot of players that deserve credit for that one, and a lot of them have been talked about.

The penalty killing unit is at the top of the list because of the way they made an impact at two crucial points in the win.