Bruins Draw First Blood, Blank Pens

Tempers frayed, fists were thrown, and players ejected as the Eastern Conference finals got underway.

Tempers frayed, fists were thrown, and players ejected as the Eastern Conference finals got underway.

The Pittsburgh Penguins may be considered the Stanley Cup favorite but it was the Boston Bruins that drew first blood Saturday night, downing the Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

In a bruising encounter, the Bruins managed to knock the No. 1 seeded Penguins off their game plan and out of the game, taking a 3-0 victory at Consol Energy Center in downtown Pittsburgh.

The Bruins arrived in the Steel City following a convincing 4-1 series win over the preseason favorite New York Rangers. The Manhattan side barely put up a fight in the semifinals series as they were outscored 16-10 over the five games.

Likewise, Pittsburgh made short work of the surprising Ottawa Senators, closing out the series in five games. The reward was eight days of rest. Eight days may have been too much.

In Game 1, the Penguins found themselves out of sorts. While the prolonged rest may have played its part, the Bruins certainly deserve a lot of credit for dislodging Dan Bylsma’s side.

A David Krejci goal at 8:23 of the first period put Pittsburgh on the back foot but it was the physical play of the Bruins that unsettled the Penguins. It was physical play also that led this to be a rugged affair.

Penguins center Matt Cooke was called for boarding early in the second period after sending Adam McQuaid crashing. A five-minute major and game misconduct penalty followed, ending Cooke’s evening and likely earning him a trip to the NHL’s corporate offices.

The play led the Boston Herald’s Steve Buckley to declare: “Cooke plays a brand of hockey that may one day kill a man.” Of course, it was Cooke who struck Boston’s Marc Savard back in March 2010. Post-concussion syndrome has kept Savard out of the game since.

Boston’s Brad Marchand was also called for boarding later in the period, although the center was assessed only a two-minute minor. That brought the ire of the Penguins.

Frustration quickly led to Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz and Boston’s Rich Peverley being called for game misconducts before the close of the period saw an unlikely showdown between the Panguins’ Evgeni Malkin and Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron. Malkin dropped Bergeron for the record. Both were assessed five minute majors.

As the two sat watching the start of the third from the penalty box, David Krejci netted his second goal of the game at 4:04 of the third period, giving the Bruins a 2-0 lead.

The Bruins would put the game out of reach with a Nathan Horton goal at 7:51, leaving the Penguins noticeably dejected.

Matt Cooke's game misconduct penalty could have lasting consequences.

Matt Cooke’s game misconduct penalty could have lasting consequences.

While much of the focus was on the rough and tumble Saturday, it was easy to miss some of the key factors of the game.

Krejci continues to roll this postseason, tallying his seventh goal and 19th point. The center has now scored 45 points in his last 45 playoff games.

Meanwhile, Boston’s Tuukka Rask stopped 29 shots to record his first career playoff shutout. He also blanked a team that had scored four or more in nine of its last 11 and averaged 4.27 goals per playoff game.

On the other side of the puck, the Penguins created plenty of chances but failed to execute.

“We had very good opportunities,” winger Jarome Iginla told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “We hit a lot of posts. We had a lot of chances and, on another night, they go in.

“We didn’t execute on a few plays and finish on a few others. We had plenty of scoring chances and chances to get momentum swings going but, unfortunately, we didn’t get it done tonight.”

Ultimately, the altercations and bruising style of play are what Game 1 of the series will be remembered for.

“It’s tough,” team captain Sidney Crosby told the Post-Gazette. “[The officials are] letting a lot go out there, and the more it gets like that, the more it’s going to escalate.

“You can only control and channel that stuff so much. You keep letting guys do that stuff, you’re just going to push the envelope. That’s something we obviously want to stay away from, but it’s kind of a natural thing when it gets like that.”

Boston’s win was its first over Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup playoffs since the Eastern Conference finals in 1991, snapping an eight-game losing skid. The Bruins took a 2-0 lead in that series before Pittsburgh reeled off four straight wins. The Penguins went on to lift the giant cup that season.

Pittsburgh won all three regular season meetings between the two sides during the regular season.

Pittsburgh entered the game as the favorite, with the moneyline falling between -175 and -210 with sportsbooks.

The Bruins are now 2-1 this postseason when playing as the underdog, while Pittsburgh – yet to be considered the underdog – is now 8-4 as the favorite.

The total (5 1/2) went under as it has in each of the three regular season meetings between the sides this season. Although the Penguins have been free scoring this postseason, that’s a trend bettors certainly need to keep in mind.

Boston Bruins vs. Pittsburgh Penguins odds for 6/3/13 (Game 2) will be available shortly.

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