PITTSBURGH – Brandon Sutter tapped the puck with his stick and saw the NHL's leading scorer streaking to the net more than ready to play the hero.
Instead, the typically deferential Pittsburgh Penguins center decided to fire it himself. The result provided the biggest moment of the season for Sutter and his red-hot team.
Sutter's wrist shot slipped past Boston's Anton Khudobin with 2:03 remaining to cap a furious third-period rally as Pittsburgh slipped by the Bruins 3-2 on Tuesday night for its sixth straight win. Sutter had already tied the game at 2 a few minutes earlier and found himself in nearly the exact same spot on the ice following a Boston turnover that allowed Sutter and superstar teammate Sidney Crosby to break in two-on-one.
Crosby had his stick in the air ready to fire but the pass never came. Instead the puck zipped past Khudobin and into the net for Sutter's eighth goal of the year.
"It's read and react, it happens pretty quick," Sutter said. "But I think Sid will be all right for a day. I don't think he's too worried about it."
After the Bruins put the clamps on the NHL's top offense for most of the game's first 50 minutes, clogging shooting lanes and preventing the Penguins from turning things into an end-to-end sprint, Crosby was simply happy for to survive.
"I think we just believed if we kept going we were eventually going to get it in," Crosby said. "It seemed like it took forever ... but that's a big win for us."
Chris Kunitz started Pittsburgh's third-period surge with his 18th goal of the season and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 14 shots for the Penguins, who broke loose late in a showdown of two of the Eastern Conference's best teams.
Zdeno Chara and Tyler Seguin scored first-period goals for the Bruins. Khudobin made 31 saves and the Bruins kept Pittsburgh's high-powered offense in check for long stretches, even keeping the Penguins off the board during a 5-on-3 power play midway through the period that appeared to be Pittsburgh's last stand.
Only it wasn't. Kunitz's shot from the right circle with 6:18 to play revived the Penguins and Sutter — acquired in a draft-day trade for popular center Jordan Staal last spring — pounced as Boston collapsed.
"You hope that you can with a 2-0 lead going into the third, you hope you can get the job done," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "We need to learn from this, giving up leads going into the third if we want to be an elite team."
Boston certainly looked elite while jumping to an early 2-0 lead, turning the tables on the NHL's best first-period team thanks to a slap shot from Chara on the power play and an acrobatic wrist shot from Seguin, who flipped the puck over Fleury's glove despite getting his legs taken out from under him.
The score seemed to wake up the Penguins, who managed to flip the ice, but couldn't find a way to slip anything past Khudobin.
That included the NHL's most explosive line. Crosby, Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis had combined for 31 points — 15 goals, 16 assists — during Pittsburgh's five-game winning streak, but were shut down by Boston's disciplined system for more than two periods.
Wherever the Penguins went, a Bruin seemed to follow. Though Khudobin was impressive, the guys playing in front of him may have been even better. Boston blocked 26 shots before they even made it to the goaltender.
"They were true to form," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "They're a tough team to play against and they play well defensively. Their penalty kill was good against our power play. But I like the fact that our team kept playing and kept playing."
The Penguins played their second straight game without reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin, out for at least a week with an undisclosed upper body injury. Pittsburgh hardly missed him in a 6-1 romp over the New York Islanders on Sunday, but Boston presented a significantly tougher test.
Still, the Penguins continued to show a flair for the dramatic. Though Crosby saw his eight-game point streak snapped, Pittsburgh continued to find a way to win close games.
Five of the Penguins' six victories during their current run have come by one goal, though this one proved by far the most surprising of them all.
"I think in the second and third we definitely got to our game and we believed if we kept going we were going to get our chances," Crosby said. "It took awhile but we stuck with it and it was nice to get rewarded for that."
NOTES: In addition to Malkin, the Penguins also scratched defensemen Robert Bortuzzo and Simon Despres. ... Boston scratched center Chris Kelly, who sustained a lower body injury in a win over Ottawa on Monday night. The Bruins also sat winger Lane MacDermid and defenseman Aaron Johnson. ... Boston hosts Florida on Thursday while the Penguins travel to Toronto.