New Acquisitions, Murray Leading Pens Towards Postseason

McCann, Bjugstad combine for three goals, Pens goalie shines again

Josh Rowntree
March 11, 2019 - 12:49 am
Pittsburgh Penguins center Jared McCann (19) reacts after scoring a goal with Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Erik Gudbranson (44) against the Boston Bruins during the first period at PPG PAINTS Arena.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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Jim Rutherford had a pretty good night at the office. 

Pittsburgh’s general manager’s two biggest pre-trade-deadline acquisitions, Jared McCann and Nick Bjugstad, comhined to score three goals, as the Penguins beat the Boston Bruins, 4-2, at PPG Paints Arena.

The win snapped Boston’s 19-game point streak, as the Bruins had not lost in regulation since January 19. 

Rutherford picked up Bjugstad and McCann for Derick Brassard, who never fit in Pittsburgh, for one reason or the other. But Bjugstad, and especially McCann, have flourished when given similar opportunities as Brassard.

“They’re two real good players and that they’ve embraced their roles that we’ve put them in,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “When guys bring a certain level of enthusiasm and they embrace the challenge, that, for me, is where it starts with just that attitude of wanting to make a difference and wanting to win games.”

McCann’s uptick in play, including a shorthanded and empty net goal Sunday, coincides with a move to Sidney Crosby’s wing, something he has done on a part-time basis during a stretch of eight points in seven games. 

“I’m feeling more comfortable every game, it feels like,” McCann said. “I’m playing with one of the best players in the world, so that helps. We created a lot tonight and it was a much better effort tonight than it was (against Columbus on Saturday night).”

On top of the new faces contributing, Sullivan credits the attention to detail and a focus on smaller areas of the game for one of Pittsburgh’s most impressive wins of the year. 

“Tonight, against a real good team that’s won a lot of games and beat a lot of good teams lately, I thought we did a good job in that regard,” he said. “It’s just essential to win. It’s hard to win in this League if you don’t have the ability to play away from the puck.”

The Penguins have won four of their last five games, but still sit in the midst of hotly contested playoff race which, at close of business Sunday, found them third in the Metropolitan Division. 

“We feel comfortable in these games,” defenseman Jack Johnson said. “They’re going to be tight and close from here on out, throughout the rest of the season. We’re expecting it and we’re ready for it.”

McCann’s efforts are certainly helping the Penguins. Jake Guentzel’s goal and assist continued his career season. The acquisition of defenseman Erik Gudbranson and call-up of Zach Trotman appears to be bridging things defensively until injured blue-liners Kris Letang and Olli Maatta are available to return. But, above all else, Matt Murray is the catalyst right now for Pittsburgh. 

Murray stopped 39 shots, picking up his 23rd win this year. He has allowed just eight goals in his last five starts, with the Penguins winning four of those games. 

Despite Saturday’s loss in Columbus, the Penguins, with Murray excelling, appear to be in a good spot. But the big games continue, with the defending champion Washington Capitals coming to Pittsburgh Tuesday. 

“We’re down the stretch now, so every game is huge,” Murray said. “It’s basically playoff hockey from here on out. It doesn’t really matter who we’re playing against, what the score was last night or whatever. Every game is going to be like that.”

Hear all of what Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had to say below.