Tuukka Rask has been one of the NHL’s best goalies this season. But on Saturday afternoon, Rask accepted the blame for giving up two power-play goals in the third period of the Bruins’ 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh at TD Garden. The Bruins are 0-3-1 in their last four games.
“It’s my bad,” Rask said. “Second one and third one. Both. No question about that. Not too often I cost the game. Today I did. It’s just how it is sometimes.”
The Bruins were charged up to win the game for themselves, their fans, and their city. Before the game, the Bruins honored law enforcement with a simple but powerful gesture.
The helmets their employer considers mandatory for warm-ups remained in the dressing room. The Bruins wore Massachusetts State Police, Boston Police, and Watertown Police hats to recognize law enforcement’s work since the Boston Marathon attacks.
The Bruins rode that emotion into a strong first period in which they grabbed a 1-0 lead. But the two power-play goals, which both slipped through Rask’s pads, were too much for the Bruins to overcome, as the Penguins secured home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
At 3:25 of the third period, after Rask had covered the puck, Brad Marchand lost his cool. According to Marchand, Jussi Jokinen grabbed him by the helmet. Earlier in the game, Marchand believed Jokinen had been too quick to jab, poke, and slash with his stick. So this time Marchand dropped his mitts and tried to engage Jokinen in a fight. Jokinen kept his gloves on. Marchand was sent to the box for roughing.
“When you get caught retaliating and only one guy gets caught, it’s obviously not a good penalty,” said coach Claude Julien.
On the power play, Jarome Iginla fired a long-distance slap shot. Chris Kunitz was parked in front of Rask, which kept the goalie from getting an optimal look on the puck. But the puck slipped through five-hole, a no-no from Julien’s view.
Rask and the penalty kill came up short later in the third. Matt Bartkowski was whistled for high-sticking Kunitz at 8:17.
Patrice Bergeron won the following faceoff and threw the puck into the corner. But the Penguins overwhelmed the Bruins against the wall and emerged with the puck. Kris Letang walked the puck to the top of the left circle and snapped the puck past Rask at 8:29 to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead.
“You’re not going to point the finger, but your goaltender’s got to make some saves, too, at the right time,” Julien said. “He knows he’s got to have those. I’m not just pointing at him. But he’s got to be better.”
Both Rask and the penalty kill have been areas of strength. Entering the game, the Bruins had the league’s No. 1 PK (88.1 percent), but the Bruins haven’t been as crisp in recent shorthanded situations. In their last three games (two regulation losses and a shootout setback), the Bruins have allowed six power-play goals on 15 opportunities.
“Everything has to fall into place for your penalty kill to be good,” Julien said. “We needed some timely saves. We also can’t give them those opportunities to shoot. That other goal from Letang, he just walked from the wall and took a wrist shot from the top of the circles.”
The PK blemishes overshadowed stretches in which the Bruins hummed at playoff pace. In the first, during which Marchand gave his club a lead with a power-play goal, the Bruins held a 13-5 shot advantage.
In the second, the Bruins had a goal waved off that would have given them a 2-1 lead. Tomas Vokoun (38 saves) made an initial stop on Marchand. But Marchand jammed the puck loose from between Vokoun’s skates. Patrice Bergeron pushed the puck over the line at 12:51, but referees Tom Kowal and Brad Meier ruled that the whistle had blown after Vokoun’s first stop.
“We built on the last game and had another very strong game,” Marchand said. “Lot of opportunities. But again, we need results.”
The Bruins have five regular-season games remaining in which to find their proper rhythm heading into the postseason. Saturday’s game had a playoff feel. For the first time this season, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg were paired for most of the game. In the last two postseasons, Chara and Seidenberg have served as the shutdown duo.
There were two first-period fights. Adam McQuaid squared off against Tanner Glass, and Nathan Horton tangled with Iginla. But the Penguins proved that even without Sidney Crosby (jaw) and Evgeni Malkin (upper body), they’re better than the Bruins.