The Penguins didn't give up five goals in the third period this time.
They didn't have to.
The four they allowed in the final 3 1/2 minutes of regulation were plenty.
Enough to transform a two-goal lead against Boston into a 4-2 defeat Monday night at Consol Energy Center.
It was the second time this season the Bruins have shocked them with a late rally at home, and this one might have been even more stunning than the one Nov. 10.
Two months ago, Boston overcame a 4-2 deficit with five unanswered goals in the third, but needed the better part of the period to accumulate them.
This time, Boston ran off four in the final 203 seconds of regulation, which means a significant portion of the crowd of 18,245 already was out of the building, presumably wondering if the Penguins would be able to pad their margin of victory with an empty-net goal.
Well, there was one of those, but it was Boston's Gregory Campbell who scored it with 7.8 seconds to play. That was after Zdeno Chara (16:37), Brad Marchand (16:49) and Mark Recchi (19:10) got pucks past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who had been brilliant to that point.
"Our goaltender played outstanding," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said.
Chara's goal came with two seconds left on a boarding minor assessed to Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik -- a call several Penguins characterized as questionable, usually in fairly colorful terms -- and Recchi backhanded the winner out of the air and into the net while Jordan Staal was in the penalty box for holding.
The Penguins began the game with the highest-rated penalty-killing in the league and denied Boston on its first four chances with the extra man, but giving the Bruins a couple of late power plays was a game-changing mistake.
"Unfortunately, our penalty-kill, we couldn't come up with that [kill while Staal was off]," Bylsma said. "It's too many opportunities in that situation and that really leads to a lot of the demise with five [minutes] to go."
That the Bruins were capable of such a comeback presumably didn't surprise anyone -- "We shouldn't have been that far removed from the last time we played Boston to know that they weren't going to quit," left winger Matt Cooke said -- but that hardly justifies the Penguins' late-game implosion.
"It's just us," defenseman Kris Letang said. "It's not about the opponent. It's just us."
The Penguins played their third consecutive game without center Sidney Crosby, who is recovering from a concussion. No target date for his return has been announced, and it's a virtual certainty that he won't be in the lineup when the Penguins visit Montreal at 7:38 p.m. Wednesday.
It's no coincidence that the Penguins are 0-2-1 without Crosby, and have gone three games without a victory for the first time since Oct. 23-29.
"We've got to find ways to win, with or without Sid," Staal said. "Obviously, we're not doing that right now."
Actually, they hit upon a pretty good formula for winning in the first two periods, and part of the third. They came by that ill-fated 2-0 lead on merit.
"We did play two solid periods to begin with," Staal said. "We let up on them a little bit and took some bad penalties, including myself, and they capitalized on them."
The Penguins had taken a 1-0 lead at 11:39 of the second, when Mike Rupp beat Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask with a back-hander from the bottom of the right circle, and it didn't take them long to get a second.
Recchi was serving a tripping minor when Letang got a long-distance feed from Evgeni Malkin and drove a slap shot by Rask from above the left circle for his seventh of the season.
Fleury preserved the lead by stopping Boston's Milan Lucic from directly in front of the net at 16:06, then topped that when he rejected a Campbell deflection while the Penguins were on a power play at 18:40.
He continued to turn aside everything the Bruins threw at him for most of the third, and even Boston's desperation didn't look like it could alter the outcome as Orpik's penalty was winding down.
"I felt good, felt confident at that point," Fleury said. "Three minutes and a half. We can hold them off that long."
Yeah, the Penguins could have. Probably should have. But they didn't.
For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Dave Molinari: firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published January 11, 2011 5:00 AM