Penguins loss in Boston is as ugly as it gets

BRUINS 3, PENGUINS 2



BOSTON -- This was not, for much of the evening, so much a hockey game as a street fight.

Yeah, there were rules, but they were mostly ignored.

When they weren't being violently broken.

And the final score probably won't be the most enduring number to come out of the Bruins' 3-2 victory against the Penguins Saturday night at TD Garden.

Never mind that Boston got two goals in the final 89 seconds, including Zdeno Chara's winner with 13 to play, to radically alter the outcome of a game that seemed likely to stretch the Penguins' winning streak to six, which would have been their longest this season.

No, the figure that makes the most lasting impression probably will be the number of games Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik misses as he recovers from the injuries received when Boston enforcer Shawn Thornton knocked him to the ice, then delivered several punches to his head.

Those blows rendered Orpik unconscious -- coach Dan Bylsma confirmed that and said it's reasonable to assume Orpik has a concussion -- and he was removed from the ice on a stretcher, although he received clearance to fly home with the team after a battery of tests at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Or perhaps the figure with the most staying power will be the number of games Thornton will be suspended for his assault on Orpik. Something close to double figures doesn't seem to be out of the question.

Then again, maybe it will be the amount of the fine Penguins winger James Neal could be assessed for driving some part of his leg into the head of Boston winger Brad Marchand while Marchand was off his feet in the Bruins end. Or even the number of games Neal is suspended if Brendan Shanahan, who handles supplemental discipline for the league, deems his actions intentional and worthy of such punishment.

Neal will have a phone hearing with Shanahan.

Bylsma said he felt Neal "didn't really make an attempt to get out of the way" before making contact with Marchand's head.

That Marchand played the rest of the game presumably will work in Neal's favor when Shanahan assesses that incident.

All the other ugliness aside, however, the headline incident was the attack that landed Orpik briefly in the hospital.

He had delivered several seismic hits, including one that put Bruins forward Loui Eriksson out of the game on the first shift, before being knocked out of the game -- and literally knocked out -- by Thornton at 11:06 of the opening period.

"It's hard to think about hockey when you see someone get hurt like that, especially a teammate and a friend," center Sidney Crosby said.

"The whole building was pretty quiet. I think they realized it was pretty vicious."

The Thornton-Orpik run-in occurred seconds after one inside the far blue line, when Marchand appeared to be tripped by Crosby before being struck in the head by Neal.

"I hit him in the head with my leg or my foot or my knee or shin area," Neal said. "I don't know. But, I mean, he's already going down and I guess I need to try to avoid him, but I have to look at it [on replay] again."

Asked pointedly if he intentionally made contact with Marchand, Neal said:

"I mean, what do you want me to say? That I was trying to hit him? No, I'm going by him. I didn't get out of the way, like I said.

"I need to be more careful and I guess get my knee out of the way, but I'm not trying to hit him in the head or injure him or anything like that."

Orpik's crushing hit on Eriksson in the opening seconds of play set the tone for the game, and power-play goals by Chris Kunitz and Neal gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead as the third period was winding down.

But with Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask replaced by an extra attacker, David Krejci scored from between the hash marks at 18:31, and Chara then beat goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from the slot at 19:47.

Just that quickly, the Penguins went from losing not only another top-four defenseman to injury to surrendering a couple of points they seemed almost certain to earn.

"We have to find a way to close that out," center Brandon Sutter said. "That's just one of those games on the road against a good team that you have to win when you're up by a goal late like that. You have to find a way to close it out."

To throw a knockout punch.

One as cool and cruel as the ones Thornton delivered a couple of hours earlier.

Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com or Twitter @MolinariPG.


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