The Pittsburgh Penguins meet the Boston Bruins on Saturday to complete their two-game series in Boston.
Both East Division contenders will have Thursday’s 4-1 Penguins win heavily on their minds.
Pittsburgh is looking to repeat or even build on its performance. Boston is looking for a much better showing.
The Penguins are known for their offensive firepower, but they also are playing a strong two-way game, allowing 24 goals over their past 15 games, no more than three in any of those games.
All of their goals Thursday came after turnovers and/or strong backchecking.
“The boys are playing really good hockey right now,” Pittsburgh winger Zach Aston-Reese said. “We’re playing defense-first. It’s all the cliches you talk about — defending hard, playing in front of your net, blocking shots, things like that. That’s what’s making it fun, because it’s leading to offense.”
The Penguins have won five games in a row and are 6-0-1 in their past seven, a surge that has come despite injuries to key players such as center Evgeni Malkin, winger Kasperi Kapanen and No. 1 goaltender Tristan Jarry.
Jarry is traveling with the club, but it’s unclear when he might return. Casey DeSmith, who made 30 saves Thursday and improved his save percentage to .933, has proven himself to be arguably the top backup in the NHL. He has allowed six goals over his past seven starts.
“It’s too bad we weren’t able to get him the shutout, because he really deserved it,” said Pittsburgh defenseman Mike Matheson, who scored a highlight-reel goal Thursday.
DeSmith has a 9-3-0 record with two shutouts this season.
Pittsburgh snapped an 0-8-2 drought in Boston with its win Thursday.
“This is not an easy building to play in,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “(Boston) is a real good team and has been for a number of years. And so it’s always a big challenge when you come here.”
The Bruins weren’t feeling great about themselves after Thursday’s game, leading to some scathing remarks from coach Bruce Cassidy.
“We didn’t take care of the puck, and good teams shove it up your (rear),” he said.
Cassidy didn’t let anyone off the hook. He pointed out that a “lot of it was our top guys,” but also pointed the finger at some of the younger players in the Boston lineup.
“Some of them will learn from it and be better off for it,” Cassidy said of the younger set. “Some of them won’t, and they won’t be here.”
Boston is 7-7-3 over its past 17 games. It sits nine points behind the Penguins but has four games in hand, mostly because of COVID-19 postponements.
There is still no expectation of when injured No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask will be back, but rookie Dan Vladar, who stopped 19 of 22 shots he faced Thursday, maintains the optimism of youth.
“I feel a lot of energy (from the team), and I think we have a great group of guys here,” Vladar said. “I just think if we get things settled right now, it’s going to be good, and it doesn’t matter if I’m going (in net) or (Rask) or Jaro (Halak).
“I hope and think we will win Saturday.”
–Field Level Media