On an emotional Saturday afternoon in Boston, the Pittsburgh Penguins got three points from Jussi Jokinen and controlled the decisive third period on their way to a 3-2 victory.
The win at TD Garden, Pittsburgh’s sixth in a row, clinched the Eastern Conference regular season championship and a No. 1 seed in the upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs. The Penguins (34-10-0, 68 points) hadn’t won a conference title since 1992-93.
Jarome Iginla, who was booed by the energized Boston crowd for nixing a trade deadline deal that would’ve made him a Bruin, scored the go-ahead power-play goal about five minutes into the third. Kris Letang netted another man-advantage tally soon after, allowing the Penguins to survive a late Tyler Seguin strike.
Under normal circumstances, the Iginla drama would’ve dominated the afternoon, but after Monday’s Boston Marathon bombing and the ensuing FBI manhunt for suspects, any hockey-related storyline took a back seat.
Following another stirring national anthem, much like the one performed before Wednesday’s Bruins-Sabres game, the teams played an increasingly spirited opening 40 minutes. Jokinen’s second-period rebound goal countered Brad Marchand’s highlight-reel PPG in the first, and the score was 1-1 entering the third.
Penguins goalie Tomas Vokoun, who made 38 saves, kept Pittsburgh alive with several above-average stops in the second, when Boston enjoyed its best stretch of play. The Bruins (26-12-5, 57 points), perhaps strengthened by the ebullient energy of the crowd, possessed the puck quite well until the third.
Pittsburgh took command in the final frame, assisted by a couple ill-timed Boston penalties. Marchand, who otherwise had a terrific game, was in the box for roughing when Iginla blasted a point shot through a screen and past Tuukka Rask at 4:43.
Jokinen earned the primary assist on Iginla’s long-range snipe, and he had the same role on Letang’s wrister from the left dot at 8:29. Bruins defenseman – and Pittsburgh native – Matt Bartkowski was serving a high-sticking minor at the time.
It was even-strength play the rest of the way, with Marchard having Boston’s best chance before the final minute. Vokoun denied his breakaway, sending the Bruins into desperation mode.
Seguin popped one past Vokoun with Rask on the bench and just three seconds left, making his 16th of the year moot. Bruins captain Zdeno Chara assisted, his second point of the afternoon.
Pittsburgh was outshot 40-24, the third straight game that the opponent has fired more pucks on target. Nevertheless, the Penguins have won 21 of their last 23, the last five without the injured Sidney Crosby (broken jaw), James Neal (concussion) and Paul Martin (broken hand).
Evgeni Malkin (shoulder) has missed the last three games, but the Penguins’ advantageous position in the standings has dictated a cautious approach in that case.
Former Penguins star Jaromir Jagr, acquired by the Bruins in a deadline deal with Dallas, had three shots on goal but didn’t record a point.
The Penguins remain on the road for their next game, as they head north to face Ottawa on Monday at 7:30 p.m.