PITTSBURGH — Brad Marchand pondered the question for a moment.
Sure, his counterpunch goal late in the first period paved the way for Boston’s 6-1 romp over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals on Monday night. But the turning point that sends the Bruins to the Stanley Cup finals?
“It’s tough to say,” Marchand said. “We’re a long way from there.”
Maybe, but the Bruins are considerably closer than the reeling Penguins.
Frustrating top-seeded Pittsburgh and its roster of stars at every turn, Boston took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series, doubling down on its impressive 3-0 win in Game 1 by blowing out the Penguins on their home ice.
Marchand bookended the first period with goals — including one just moments after Pittsburgh scored for the first time in the series — as the Bruins moved within two victories of their second appearance in the finals in three seasons.
Not that Boston wants to talk about it.
This is the same franchise that blew a 3-0 lead in the conference semifinals against Philadelphia in 2010. Even with a Cup win two years ago, the memory of the collapse against the Flyers remains fresh. So does the potential of a star-laden Penguins roster, one which could see its season pushed to the brink with a loss in Game 3 on Wednesday in Boston.
“They’re a really good team, we respect them and we know it’s not over,” Boston’s Patrice Bergeron said. “We need to make sure we keep it going and stay in the game and take it by the moment.”
Bergeron, David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Johnny Boychuk also scored for Boston, which has yet to trail against the Eastern Conference’s top seed. Tuukka Rask kept Sidney Crosby and the rest of the NHL’s top offense in check once again, stopping 26 shots.
“I don’t think you expect to win games in the playoffs in this fashion, but we’ll take it,” Rask said.
Brandon Sutter netted Pittsburgh’s lone goal. Tomas Vokoun gave up three first-period goals on 12 shots before being replaced by Marc-Andre Fleury.
The move did little to blunt the momentum in what has quickly become a one-sided matchup. Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma declined to speculate who will start in net Wednesday. It might not matter if the guys in front of the goal don’t do a better job.
“We got out-competed tonight and outplayed,” Pittsburgh’s Jarome Iginla said. “There’s no question about that.”
The last 16 teams to go up 2-0 in the conference finals have advanced to the Cup finals. The Penguins managed to escape a 2-0 hole against the Bruins in 1991 on their way to the franchise’s first championship.
These days Mario Lemieux is relegated to watching from the owner’s box. At the moment, the view isn’t pretty.
Marchand took advantage of a sloppy play by Crosby to give Boston the lead just 28 seconds into the game. Crosby attempted to flip a bouncing puck back into Boston’s zone. Marchand casually snatched it out of the air then streaked in on Vokoun before putting a wrist shot over the goalie’s glove.
The Bruins — and Marchand — were just getting started.
Horton and Krejci poured in two more goals to rattle the Stanley Cup favorites and end Vokoun’s run through the postseason. The 36-year-old journeyman won six of his first seven starts after replacing a shaky Fleury in the opening series against the New York Islanders. He was hardly to blame for the loss in the opener against Boston, but Bylsma nodded at Fleury after Krejci’s goal.
Fleury returned to a warm ovation, and for a moment, it gave Pittsburgh a jolt. Sutter snapped a wrist shot over Rask’s stick with 34 seconds left in the first period and the Penguins appeared to have life.
Marchand quickly snuffed it out, rifling a shot over Fleury’s outstretched glove to restore Boston’s three-goal edge.
That was more than enough. Way more.
The Bruins allowed five goals in a game only three times all season. The Penguins never even came close, seeming to have trouble getting out of their own way. Players collided, tripped over themselves and seemed unable to generate any kind of energy.
Of course, Boston had something to do with that. The Bruins squeezed away all the open ice Pittsburgh enjoyed while racing to the league’s second-best record. Boston blocked shots, poke-checked and pushed the Penguins all over the ice.
The boos grew to a dull roar when Pittsburgh flubbed a second-period power play. They dissipated late, if only because so many fans had left after Bergeron’s goal made it 5-1 only 27 seconds into the third period. There’s a chance it may be the last home game of the season. The Penguins need to win at least one of two in Boston to force a Game 5.
“I think coming off a game like this there should be no shortage of motivation knowing the situation, knowing how tonight went,” Crosby said. “Guys have a lot of pride, a lot of character. I’m not worried about how we’re going to respond.”