Collier: Penguins finish off late rally with flying colors

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The Penguins have probably written more dramatic chapters within the recent history of their highly successful organ-I-zation, but it taxes the memory to identify one that sprang from a narrative of so little promise, a storyline flatter than both sides of the puck.

For the longest time on Tuesday night, the best idea the Penguins came up with against Boston appeared to have presented itself in the warm-up, when the home team skated happily to and fro in purple sweaters bearing pink numerals.

What appeared to be a classic case of their mommies mistakenly washing the regular black-and-beige numbers in extremely hot water with a load of big fluffy red beach towels, the actual sartorial reason was to fully support the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer initiative, as those purple-and-pinks will be auctioned for the worthy cause.

Too bad they didn't wear them onto the ice for periods one and two because there was little else to distract Boston Big Bads from squashing Dan Bylsma's team much as they have with the same stunning consistency they display on that distant planet inhabited by only themselves and the Chicago Blackhawks.

But this was a hotly anticipated hockey game between teams that had lost only four times in their past 24 games, and in the end it just happened to fall on a night when the color of everything changed.

"There was no other way around it except for hard work," said captain Sidney Crosby 10 minutes after the Penguins flipped the Bruins onto their backs with a trio of electrifying third period goals. "I think we deserved to get back into the hockey game."

It wasn't so much a matter of that unlikely possibility. It was far more a question of method.

"We turned some pucks over, we jumped on opportunities, and we came back," Chris Kunitz said as though that were as simply done as said.

"We knew we needed to put a lot of pucks toward them. They have a great structure and it took us awhile to break it."

Boston had been heavily outshot all night, so little less than startling was the disappearance for the game's first 53 minutes of a Penguins offense that had been pumping home nearly a half-dozen goals a night in the past five performances.

That streak in which James Neal had scored goals in four consecutive games?


That eight-game point streak flashing from the magic stick of Sidney Crosby?


That self-satisfying suspicion that these Penguins might be the best team in all of Eastern Conference?

Gone Baby Gone.

And then, with all of that seemingly established, there was, to-that-point invisible, Chris Kunitz, flying to within 20 feet of Bruins goalie Anton Khudobin and slapping the puck past him to the short side to wake the walking dead.

This spooked the visitors to a fateful degree, as that defense that couldn't make a mistake suddenly couldn't make a simple outlet pass.

One such attempt was picked off by Beau Bennett near the blue line, fed left to Neal in the high slot, and left again to Sutter, who pounded it home from just inside the left circle to tie the hockey game at 2-2.

An overtime and a potential shootout looked like a blessed option on a night the Penguins had been all but smothered, but Sutter had other ideas.

Barely three minutes after he'd tied it, Sutter intercepted a feckless Dennis Seidenberg pass and took about a half-second to decide not only that he wasn't going to force the puck to Crosby flying down the slot, but that he could beat Khudobin again, this time from 40 feet.

"It's always good to get a goal, but especially when you're down and it's getting late," Sutter said.

Especially on a night when Boston had pretty much taken that measuring stick from this so-called measuring stick game and broken it over the home team's head.

The Penguins came into this episode with an NHL-best 97 goals and looked for all the world like they'd come out with the same number, essentially because they had no answer for Boston's faultless, metronomic defensive system until it was very nearly too late.

"They're awfully good in their end," said Sutter, never mind that his brilliant third period did a lot to suggest otherwise. "They're very responsible back there. They don't cheat."

Until that rollicking four-minute cadenza near the final curtain, the Penguins' best idea other than the abandoned purple-and-pink gambit actually came in the first period when they put too many men on the ice, but as a wise old hockey man once said, "Teams who put too many men on the ice will soon find themselves with too few."

That's right.

So on the ensuing Boston power play, 6-9 Zdeno Chara wound up with that tree branch he calls a hockey stick and blasted the Bruins into a 1-0 lead from 60 feet away. Nine minutes later, Patrice Bergeron, who continues to torture the Penguins in the faceoff circle, flashed behind Marc-Andre Fleury's net and flipped a perfect pass into the slot for Tyler Seguin.

A 2-0 lead felt like 20-0 for 40 minutes that felt like 40 days and 40 nights.

But the color of things was about to change dizzyingly. The Bruins return to Pittsburgh in just four days. Should be, uh, colorful.

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Gene Collier: First Published March 13, 2013 4:00 AM


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