Subpar goaltending sabotages strong showing vs. Bruins ☕


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The Bruins' Brad Marchand celebrates his winning goal past Tristan Jarry in the third period Monday night in Boston. - AP

BOSTON -- The Penguins did not blame their goaltenders for how this game turned out.

Their teammates didn't.

Their coach didn't.

But none of those guys had to, really, because the Penguins' 6-4 loss to the Bruins at TD Garden Monday night could be painted easily -- and devastatingly -- by the numbers.

Like how Matt Murray stopped just eight of the 11 shots the Bruins threw at him.

And how, after Murray was pulled early in the second period, Tristan Jarry turned aside only 12 of 14.

What those numbers don't show is that the empty-netter Patrice Bergeron scored in the waning seconds of regulation was only a bit less difficult to get into the Penguins' net than most of the five that preceded it.

Like the Jake DeBrusk goal that gave Boston a 1-0 lead at 5:21 of the opening period, when he beat Murray from a sharp angle in the left circle.

Or when David Pastrnak drove Murray from the game by scoring from the top of the left circle at 4:22 of the second.

Or how -- after the Penguins had scored four unanswered goals to take a 4-3 lead -- Jarry could not stop Torey Krug from the bottom of the right circle at 8:14 of the third.

Or, perhaps worst of all, when Brad Marchand's shot from near the top of the left circle eluded Jarry before slamming off the right post, then hit Jarry in the back before dropping to the ice and into the net for the game-winning goal with 1:57 left in regulation.

The Penguins had not, by any means, played an error-free game -- DeBrusk got his goal, for example, after Kris Letang turned the puck over to him near the Penguins' blue line -- but had they gotten even average goaltending, let alone the consistently strong kind they'd received in most of their previous 14 games, they would have left town with more than the hollow satisfaction of having played about as well as they could for much of the evening.

"This was one of the best games we've played all year," Mike Sullivan said. "I thought our team played extremely well. ... We just didn't get the result. It's unfortunate, because I thought we deserved better."

True enough, although letting the two points -- or, at the very least, one -- they could have taken out of this game slip away might not be the most significant loss of the evening for the Penguins.

That's because they had to finish the game without Letang, who is the cornerstone of their defense.

Sullivan offered little information about him after the game, other than to say he is being evaluated for an unspecified lower-body injury.

"I don't know exactly what happened," forward Dominik Kahun said. "I don't know what's wrong with him. But we sure don't want to miss him."

If Letang is out for an extended period, it figures to significantly increase the burden on the remaining top-six defensemen. That includes John Marino, the Penguins' rookie who hails from suburban Easton and who had a fairy-tale return scuttled by Boston's third-period comeback.

In his first game at TD Garden as a pro, Marino scored his first NHL goal with just 2.6 seconds left in the second period to give the Penguins a 4-3 lead.

Marino had just finished serving a tripping minor -- he admitted it was "running through my mind a little bit" that the Bruins might capitalize on his penalty to reclaim the lead -- when he got the puck in the neutral zone and broke in alone on Boston goalie Jaroslav Halak before sliding a backhander past him.

"I was just trying to skate as fast as possible, to get away from the defender," Marino said. "And I just kind of reacted. Definitely a special moment there."

At the time, it looked as if Marino might get the storybook hat trick. His first NHL goal. In his hometown. As a game-winner.

Trouble is, there was another period to play, and while the Penguins were up to the challenge, Jarry wasn't.

He gave up a bad goal to Krug and a worse one to Marchand, as the Penguins' 4-3 lead mutated into a 6-4 defeat.

"You knew they were going to push back," Sullivan said. "They've got some talent on that team, too, but I thought our third period was strong."

The Penguins did, in fact, outshoot Boston, 14-10, during those final 20 minutes. Trouble is, Halak stopped all 14, while three of the Bruins' shots made it into the net.

The culture of hockey is such that players would sooner verbally skewer their great-grandmothers than utter a harsh syllable about their goaltender, so the Penguins were predictably complimentary toward Murray and Jarry.

"(Murray) has been so good for us, in so many different ways," Nick Bjugstad said. "It's going to happen. It's not his fault. Obviously, there were some good goals by those guys. There are some skilled guys. ... Jarry's a good goaltender, too. We have faith in both of them."

That's understandable, and it's something Murray and Jarry have earned. They just didn't do it on this particular night.

Which doesn't detract from how the Penguins dominated a team many consider to be the NHL's finest during the second period, when Kahun, Bjugstad, Bryan Rust and Marino scored to transform a three-goal deficit into an improbable lead.

Completely on merit.

"How we came back in the second period was amazing," Kahun said. "We were all over them."

The Penguins' first period was pretty good, too. Same with their third.

But the final score was the latest bit of evidence that if a team doesn't get adequate goaltending, what the 18 skaters do really doesn't matter.

"I thought it was a really good game by our team," Sullivan said. "We just didn't win."

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