Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins experienced the complete range of emotions Monday night at TD Garden, all in the matter of a few moments.
Pittsburgh’s captain tied the game with three-tenths of a second left in regulation, then lost his mark in the defensive zone as Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug scored the winner a half minute into overtime. The wild conclusion to the 4-3 game earned the Penguins a point in the standings, but the evening still had a bittersweet feel for the visitors.
James Neal scored twice to pull the Penguins (15-9-1, 31 points) even after they fell behind by two early; Neal has four goals in his last two games and six for the season, the last of which tied the score with 8:51 to play in the third. Veteran blueliner Zdeno Chara put the Bruins (16-6-2, 34 points) back ahead 3 1/3 minutes later, seemingly for good.
But the Penguins netted their first goal of the season with an extra attacker, making something out of nothing in the final seconds. Following a desperate Paul Martin point shot that missed high, Neal collected the rebound on the left-wing half-wall and dished the puck to Chris Kunitz in the slot. Kunitz simply backhanded an attempted shot toward the goalmouth, where Crosby whacked in his 13th of the year just in time.
A quick video review confirmed the goal beat the siren, and so 4-on-4 overtime would be needed. Former Penguin Jarome Iginla charged in for a good chance right at the start of sudden death, but Marc-Andre Fleury made the save. However, the Bruins controlled the resulting faceoff and Brad Marchand found Krug, who slipped behind Crosby at the left circle and blew an accurate slap shot over Fleury’s shoulder.
The deciding goal came 34 seconds into the extra frame, dealing the Penguins their first loss beyond regulation since March 18, 2012, a 3-2 overtime defeat in Philadelphia that ended an 11-game win streak. Pittsburgh played 83 regular-season games between OT losses, a franchise record.
The Penguins’ first trip to Boston since their four-game defeat in last June’s Eastern Conference final had a familiar feel early, as they couldn’t beat Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask despite dramatically outplaying the home team at the start. Instead, Boston got opportunistic goals from Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith to lead 2-0 after one period, even though Pittsburgh had a 10-5 shot advantage.
Neal buried his first deadly shot of the night 37 seconds into the middle frame, snapping a pass from Evgeni Malkin past Rask’s blocker from between the circles. Neal hit the crossbar with a one-timer later in the period, and the two top teams in the East went to the third with the Bruins still ahead.
That slim lead lasted 11 more minutes, until Neal threw a dart to the top shelf off a slick assist from Jussi Jokinen. Chara made the Penguins pay for consecutive icing infractions with 5:15 to go, shooting a long drive that tipped Crosby’s stick blade and fooled Fleury.
Fleury played well, making 20 saves and getting beaten on four great opportunities; still, he has allowed three or more goals in back-to-back starts for the first time this season. Rask stopped 28 of 31 shots tossed his way.
The Penguins return to Consol Energy Center on Wednesday for their usual pre-Thanksgiving game. This time around, they host the Maple Leafs, who beat them last month in Toronto to start the three-game season series.