PITTSBURGH (AP) – Frank Vatrano shook off his slump and singlehandedly outscored the struggling Pittsburgh Penguins.
Boston’s rookie center, playing in his 17th NHL game, had three goals for his first career hat trick to lead the Bruins to a 6-2 win over the Penguins on Friday night.
Vatrano, playing in his 17th NHL game, ended a nine-game scoring drought since getting his second goal of the season on Nov. 25 at Detroit.
“There’s always relief when you’re not getting points or scoring goals,” Vatrano said. “It’s awesome to finally get rewarded. You work hard to score goals and sometimes you work even harder than you do some nights and they don’t go in. So, a night like tonight, it’s awesome to get rewarded.”
Patrice Bergeron added two goals, Loui Eriksson also scored, Ryan Spooner added three assists and Brad Marchand had two for Boston, which swept the teams’ home-and-home series after winning 3-0 at home on Wednesday night.
“Some guys that step up like Frank Vatrano, it’s always a boost for us, and it’s nice to see the scoring get spread around,” Boston coach Claude Julien said.
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask made 30 saves to improve to 8-0-2 in his last 10 games. The Bruins have at least one point in each of their past eight road games (6-0-2).
Conor Sheary – Vatrano’s college teammate at UMass – got his first two NHL points with a goal and an assist, and Trevor Daley scored his first goal with the Penguins, who are 0-3 since Mike Sullivan replaced Mike Johnston as the team’s head coach last weekend.
Overall, Pittsburgh has lost four in a row (0-3-1) and six of its past seven to sit 12th in the Eastern Conference.
“Bittersweet is a good word,” said Sheary, who was playing on Pittsburgh’s top line in his second game since being promoted from the American Hockey League. “Obviously, we’re not winning right now, so it’s kind of tough in the room, but obviously an exciting time for me. I was glad to get a goal.”
Pittsburgh’s scoring has been too thin to spread around. The Penguins have scored five goals in their past four games and have struggled offensively all season.
Sidney Crosby had two assists for the Penguins to break a three-game point-scoring drought.
Sheary made it 1-0 at 8:20 of the first period. From the left hash marks, he took a feed from behind the net from Crosby and one-timed it past Rask.
“Conor’s a good friend of mine,” Vatrano said. “I lived with him for a year at UMass. … For him to get called up, it’s awesome for him and he had a great game. So, I’m proud of him.”
Rask had a personal shutout streak against Pittsburgh stopped at 150:29.
It was the Penguins’ first lead in four games, but the Bruins tied it 1-1 on Vatrano’s first goal just 1:43 later – on an unscreened shot off the glove of goaltender Jeff Zatkoff (28 saves) – and did not trail again.
“That was a little bit of a downer for us,” Sullivan said.
Bergeron gave Boston its first lead, 2-1, with a short-handed goal 1:03 into the second period. Even though Pittsburgh tied it 2-2 on Daley’s blast from the right point at 2:39 shortly after the same power play expired, it was all Bruins after that.
“To me, I’m not interested in pointing fingers at where it falls,” Sullivan said of his club, which sits 12th in the Eastern Conference. “It falls on all of us. It starts with me. We all have to be resilient. We all have to have some resolve. Let’s face it, there are a lot of doubters out there right now. I believe that we can pull this group together.”
Boston regained the lead, 3-2, with a power-play goal at 9:39 of the second period when Eriksson got three whacks at the puck from the top of the crease and put the last one under Zatkoff.
During 4-on-4 play, the Bruins’ Zdeno Chara sent a shot from the right point over the net. The puck bounced off of the glass and back to the front of the net, where Bergeron swatted it in for a 4-2 lead 35 seconds into the third period.
Vatrano punched in a loose puck at 12:18 of the third to make it 5-2, and scored on a rebound off of a 3-on-1 breakaway to make it 6-2 at 15:18.
NOTES: Boston was without injured players C Zac Rinaldo (undisclosed), C Chris Kelly (broken leg), RW Joonas Kemppainen (undisclosed) and C David Pastrnak (foot). … Pittsburgh C Nick Bonino returned after missing Wednesday game due to illness. … Out with injuries for the Penguins were D Kris Letang (undisclosed), goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury (concussion) and RW Beau Bennett (undisclosed). Letang has begun skating on his own.
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