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Penguins 5, Bruins 2

Big hole on the ice trips Bruins again

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By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / March 12, 2012
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PITTSBURGH - Claude Julien’s plan wasn’t to throw Marty Turco into an inferno. After the Bruins submitted a freshman effort against the Pittsburgh varsity in Sunday’s first period, that plan required alteration.

After 20 minutes of blitzkrieg hockey in which Pittsburgh put three pucks behind Tim Thomas, Julien gave Turco the nod for the second. For 40 minutes, Turco, who hadn’t faced an NHL shot since March 17, 2011, battled to give his teammates life.

Again, the ditch was too deep.

For the third time in seven days, the Bruins trailed in the first period, 2-0. Appropriately, the Penguins punished the Bruins for their struggles and claimed a 5-2 win at the Consol Energy Center for their ninth straight victory.

The Bruins played their best when they were down big and missing three players: Patrice Bergeron (foot), Adam McQuaid (upper body), and Max Sauve (lower body).

At 1:56 of the second, David Krejci made it a 3-1 game when he converted a partial breakaway on Marc-Andre Fleury. At 10:01 of the second, Krejci scored again after taking a wraparound pass from Milan Lucic to make it 4-2. At 14:15 of the third, Krejci nearly had a hat trick with a short-angle power-play attempt, but Fleury gloved the shot.

Had the Bruins only played with such pace in the first, the outcome might have been different.

“We’ve got to be ready. We’re professionals,’’ said defenseman Johnny Boychuk. “When you give up three goals in the first, it’s unacceptable. Even if it’s a matinee or not, it’s unacceptable.’’

Too many of the Bruins’ parts are crumbling at the same time. They were already without Nathan Horton (concussion) and Rich Peverley (knee). They recently saw Tuukka Rask (groin) and Daniel Paille (upper body) leave the lineup. On Sunday, they welcomed back Andrew Ference, but then lost three more bodies.

Amid their injuries - or perhaps because of them - the Bruins have forgotten how to start a game. Last Sunday against the Rangers and again on Saturday against Washington, Julien called first-period timeouts to settle his players after they gave up two quick goals.

Against the Penguins, after a Ben Lovejoy shot deflected off Shawn Thornton’s stick, Arron Asham beat Thomas at 3:24 of the first. At 7:12, Matt Niskanen’s point shot bounced off Zdeno Chara and wobbled past Thomas. At 18:48, with Lucic in the box for slashing Zbynek Michalek, James Neal took a cross-ice pass from Evgeni Malkin and tucked the puck behind Thomas.

The Penguins scored three legitimate goals. The Bruins did little to help Thomas on any of them. But in a scenario that’s happened repeatedly in the last two months, Thomas (seven saves) couldn’t make a money stop to bail out his boys. Last year, thievery by Thomas was the norm, not the exception.

Right now, the Bruins don’t know what they’re going to get from Thomas. So it was little surprise that Turco took the crease to start the second.

“A little bit of everything,’’ Julien said of the switch. “I think it was a good opportunity for Marty to go in at the beginning of the second. He skated a bit this morning for about 20 minutes, so he was warmed up. When you’re down by three goals against Pittsburgh, you give the guy an opportunity. We wanted to see how ready he was. I thought he did a great job. He certainly gave us a chance when he was in net. Tim’s played a lot lately. So it was probably an opportunity for me to give him some rest and let Marty take over.’’

The Bruins have been asking big things of Thomas. Sunday marked his fifth straight start, his longest streak of the season. The 37-year-old has appeared in nine straight matches and 17 of the last 19 games.

For all of last year and the first half of this season, Thomas answered the call. He has been and remains the team’s most important player. But because of fatigue, bad luck, his team’s defensive play, a slippage in his game, or a combination of all those elements, Thomas hasn’t been the difference-maker the Bruins need him to be.

In contrast, Turco made two timely saves. At 9:07 of the second, Jordan Staal should have given the Penguins a 5-1 lead. But Turco sprawled, stacked his pads, and booted out Staal’s attempt.

“It was good to get in there,’’ Turco said. “Every minute, I felt a little more comfortable. I wish I could have made a couple saves and gave the guys a better chance and a little more momentum.’’

In the third, Joe Vitale scurried off for a partial breakaway. Turco got his glove on Vitale’s shot at 2:10 to keep it a 4-2 game.

“He gave me a pretty good idea,’’ Julien said when asked if Turco’s showing indicated future solid performance. “He moves the puck pretty well. He’s a competitor. He was in there, he was giving guys life on the ice and talking a lot. You could see he was excited to be back and playing. I liked the way he came in for a tough situation and how he handled it.’’

Turco couldn’t do much to stop either goal he allowed. At 4:27 of the second, after taking a cross-crease feed from Neal, Chris Kunitz hammered home a one-timer to give the Penguins a 4-1 lead. In the third, Pascal Dupuis picked his way around Lucic, went in unchallenged, and slipped a backhander past Turco at 16:07.

The Bruins are still in second place in the East. It is an imposter’s position. The fourth-place Penguins have 6 more points. Seventh-place Ottawa is just 2 points behind for the Northeast Division title. The Bruins are fading. Fast.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.

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