NHL Sunday NBC Preview: Boston versus St. Pittsburgh.
The Boston Bruins plays the opening game of a two-game series in Pittsburgh against the Penguins at 3 PM ET on NBC.
Boston had their six-game winning streak end in their 6-4 loss at Buffalo on Friday. Steve Kampfer scored the opening goal at the 2:15 mark of the first period. The Bruins then allowed five unanswered goals until Nick Ritchie scored just over 12 minutes into the third period. Kevan Miller and Taylor Hall scored to give Boston three goals in a 5:06 minute span, but that is as close as they would get. Sabres’ rookie goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 36 shots in earning his first victory in his NHL career.
Goalie Tuukka Rask was pulled 1:14 minutes into the third period after surrendering the fourth goal. Jaroslav Halak replaced him and made four saves in his first appearance since April 5th when he entered the NHL COVID protocol.
Head coach Bruce Cassidy later commented that his team was flat due to the side effects of receiving the COVID vaccine on Tuesday. Center Patrice Bergeron was a late scratch on Friday with a lower-body injury. He is listed as day-to-day.
The Bruins are in fourth place in the East Division, six points ahead of the New York Rangers for the final playoff spot. They are three points behind the New York Islanders for third place. With 46 games played, they have played two fewer games than both the Rangers and Islanders.
General manager Don Sweeney was active at the trade deadline. The organization acquired left wing Taylor Hall, center Curtis Lazar, and defenseman Mike Reilly without dealing away a first-round draft pick. The trade with the Buffalo to add the underachieving Hall has already paid dividends as the former number one pick in the 2010 draft scoring two goals and adding an assist in his four games as a Bruin playing on their second line anchored by David Krejci. Lazar will play on the checking line, and Reilly adds depth on the blue line.
Center Brad Marchand leads the team with 57 points coming from 25 goals and 32 assists. Bergeron has 18 goals and 22 assists. Right wind David Pastrnak is third on the team with 41 points from 18 goals and 23 assists.
Cassidy may turn back to Jeremy Swayman as his goaltender this afternoon. The rookie has a 5-1-0 record in six games, with a 1.65 goals-against-average and a .943 save percentage.
Pittsburgh won their third game in a row in a 4-2 victory against New Jersey yesterday. Jeff Carter opened the scoring at the 9:41 mark of the first period. Jared McCann added a power-play goal three minutes later. Bryan Rust gave his team a three-goal lead 7 1/2 minutes into the second period. The Devils pulled within one goal in the third period before Sidney Crosby scored an empty netter with just one second left in the game. Casey DeSmith made 34 saves in the victory.
The Penguins have won seven of nine games to pull into second place in the East Division with 65 points. They are one point behind Washington for first place and two points ahead of the Islanders in third place. All three teams have played 48 games.
Pittsburgh’s improved play has coincided with a shakeup in upper management. Long-time general manager Jim Rutherford resigned in early February. Former Philadelphia Flyers’ GM Ron Hextall got hired as his replacement on February 9th, with veteran general manager Brian Burke (who oversaw Anaheim’s Stanley Cup title in 2007) was brought in as the new President of Hockey Operations. The Penguins have won 26 of their 37 games since the wake-up call.
Hextall and Burke acquired forward Jeff Carter at the trade deadline from the Los Angeles Kings. The 36-year-old with two Stanley Cup championships can play all three forward positions. He offers depth at center, where the Penguins have been hit hard with injuries.
Sidney Crosby leads the team with 55 points from 20 goals and 35 assists. Left wing Jake Guentzel has 20 goals and 31 assists. Defenseman Kris Letang is third on the team with 39 points from seven goals and 32 assists.
Tristan Jarry will likely be the goaltender this afternoon after DeSmith played yesterday. Jarry has a 20-8-3 record this season, with a 2.79 goals-against-average and a .913 save percentage.
Boston has won four of the six meetings between these two teams after defeating the Penguins at home on April 3rd, 7-5. BetAnySports lists Pittsburgh as a -122 money line favorite with the total set at 5.5.
Computer prediction: Boston Bruins 3 Pittsburgh Penguins 2