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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Bruins Blank Free-Falling Penguins 3-0, Tuukka Rask Picks Up His 4th Shutout of the Season

There were only two games in the NHL tonight so that meant much of the hockey world got to see two teams on national TV (NBCSN) that are headed in opposite directions. Boston (17-9-4) beat Pittsburgh (15-12-3) 3-0 at TD Garden behind 34 saves by goaltender Tuukka Rask for his fourth shutout of the season (tied for NHL lead) and 30th of his career. Seven different Bruins had points, led by Jimmy Hayes and Ryan Spooner who each put up a goal and an assist. These same teams will be back at it on Friday (7, NESN) at Consol Energy Center.

Boston is 6-1-3 in its last 10 games and this win vaulted them into second-place in the Atlantic Division (tied with Detroit, with 1 game in hand) and fifth-place in the Eastern Conference. Conversely, Pittsburgh is stuck in fifth-place in the Metropolitan Division and 11th-place in the East. The Penguins have suffered an epic bout of injuries, terrible luck and general poor karma that tends to permeate around bad teams. Still, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel in the fold, it's hard to believe that the Penguins could be tied with the Maple Leafs for the third fewest goals scored (68) so far this season in the league.

Even early on, you had a feeling that it was the Bruins' night when Max Talbot of all people scored his first ever goal for Boston (in his 29th game) at 9:52 of the first period. Adam McQuaid and Hayes assisted on Talbot's goal that was a snipe (haha for him at least) over poor Jeff Zatkoff's (26 saves) glove. Boston doubled its lead at 4:00 of the second period when Spooner's pass bounced in ever so slightly off of Hayes who drove to the net just as Bruins head coach Claude Julien had told him to. New Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan (formerly of the Bruins, BU and Marshfield MA) challenged it to see if Hayes interfered with Zatkoff but he didn't so it held up. Colin Miller had the second assist on Hayes' fifth goal of the season (the former BC star had just 1 assist in his last 14 games).

Pittsburgh dominated the second period, outshooting Boston 18-4, but they had nothing to show for it. That had to be extremely frustrating for the Penguins and each club seemed to basically go through the motions in the third period. Spooner clinched it with the ultra-rare power play/empty-net combo platter goal at 17:17. Patrice Bergeron (6-game point streak) and Loui Eriksson assisted on Spooner's eighth goal of the season.

Adam McQuaid escaped serious injury in the second after he took a wayward puck to his face. He skated off quickly with his hand over his mouth and headed straight to the dressing room for some repairs. There were some chippy plays on both sides but only four penalties were called on Pittsburgh and three on Boston with no fights (maybe since Zac Rinaldo went on IR yesterday). Expect that to change on Friday, especially if Pittsburgh is losing again and in desperate need of a spark.

Rask has been on fire lately, he is 7-0-2 in his last nine games with a 1.36 goals against average, .955 save percentage and three shutouts. He's playing his best hockey of the season along with most of his teammates. It only took nearly 2.5 months but Boston is finally .500 at home (7-7-2) this season, haha progress! They remain one of the best road teams (10-2-2) in the NHL while Pittsburgh is 8-5-2 at home. It's hard to say with a straight face that any game before Christmas is a must-win in the NHL but if the Penguins have any pride, Friday is basically that.

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