Penguins can’t crack Grahame
John Grahame is to the Penguins what Aleksey Morozov is to the New Jersey Devils: A real nemesis.
It’s just that nobody knows.
Certainly not Grahame, who stopped 32 shots Wednesday night to lead the Boston Bruins to a 4-2 victory at Mellon Arena. He had no idea he improved his record to 3-0-1 against the Penguins.
“I knew I played pretty well against them,” he said, “but I didn’t know I hadn’t lost or whatever.”
Neither did the Penguins, who saw their four-game unbeaten streak snapped before the smallest home crowd of the season (13,397).
“I didn’t know anything about him, but you have to give him credit,” winger Stephane Richer said. “He played really well. One shift, I think we had five scoring chances, and he made some key saves.”
A 26-year-old backup, Grahame has 12 career victories – three of them against the Penguins. He is 9-15-6 against everybody else.
The Penguins, who played the night before in Washington, put 12 shots on Grahame in the third period.
Alexei Kovalev scored his second goal a minute into the frame to cut the Bruins’ lead to 3-2, but Grahame, making his fifth start of the season in place of Byron Dafoe, held on the rest of the way.
With 13 minutes left in regulation, Grahame made a desperate save, flat on his back, on Milan Kraft’s backhander.
“I really didn’t know where I was going,” Grahame said. “I just tried to get as much up as I could and tried to react to the shot. Fortunately, it kind of hit me.”
Some of the Penguins said that was the case for much of the night.
“To tell you the truth, I thought he was a little bit lucky we didn’t bury our chances,” Kovalev said. “The second and third lines, they had some chances they should have been a little better on. Like, Krafty had a chance when the goalie was down, and he could have put it on the forehand and shot it hard and gone upstairs. He tried to go backhand, and (Grahame) just barely stopped it.
“We had some chances. I don’t know why we couldn’t bury them. You have to concentrate on those. You can’t just waste them.”
The Bruins, who lead the NHL in shots, came out firing and scored first, off Joe Thornton’s faceoff win five minutes into the game. Thornton beat Kris Beech on the draw, directing the puck to former Penguins winger Glen Murray at the edge of the right circle.
Murray fired a wrist shot that made its way through three players – possibly hitting one of them – and past goaltender Johan Hedberg for his 11th goal of the season.
Hedberg had another stellar game, stopping 38 of 41 shots. It was the second-most shots the Penguins gave up this season.
The Penguins tied it at 11:43 when Kovalev and Lang combined on a goal, and either could have been credited for it without much of an argument.
Lang bounced the puck off Grahame from behind the net, and it was trickling over the goal-line when Kovalev crashed in and pushed it home.
Replays failed to show whether the puck made it across the goal line before Kovalev touched it. He was credited with his team-leading 10th goal of the season.
“I told Langer I would have been even happier if they gave it to him,” Kovalev said.
Boston took a 2-1 lead at 10:50 of the second period, when Guerin beat Hedberg from short range. Bruins forward Brian Rolston hauled down Andrew Ference, allowing Guerin to gain possession to Hedberg’s right. Guerin’s shot bounced off Hedberg’s blocker and into the net.
Penguins defenseman John Jakopin was in the penalty box for holding Axelsson’s stick when the Bruins made it 3-1 at 16:53 of the second.
Jozef Stumpel faked a shot from the left circle and delivered a crisp, cross-ice pass to Sean O’Donnell, who one-timed it past Hedberg for his first goal of the season.
“It was a great play,” Hedberg said. “I really thought he was going to shoot the puck. I didn’t see the far guy. I thought when he passed, it would go to the guy in the middle. I’d like to read that better, but you kind of had to respect that.”
Guerin iced the game with an empty-net goal at 19:13.
It was the Penguins’ third consecutive crowd of less than 15,000. There are about 4,000 seats left for Friday’s game against Minnesota and about 3,000 for Sunday’s game against Carolina.
After that, things are expected to pick up. Mario Lemieux Bobblehead Night, Wednesday against Montreal, and Jaromir Jagr’s return to Pittsburgh on Dec. 21 are sold out. Games on Dec. 29 against Ottawa and Jan. 5 against the New York Rangers are expected to sell out.
The Penguins are well aware that they’d best make hay during this five-game homestand.
“We need to win at home,” Richer said. “We need those home points.”