Game 1 is in the books and the Penguins looked like a much different team than recent playoff runs.
Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009, the Penguins lost in the second round in 2010, and bowed out in the first round each of the last two years.
There have been plenty of reasons why those teams failed to make stronger runs at the Stanley Cup, but this looked like a different Penguins team last night.
The 5-0 drubbing of the Islanders in Game 1 isn’t something to just brush off. This Penguins team is focused. They are determined. They may have never been this hungry.
You could sense it from the opening faceoff. The look in Douglas Murray’s face alone was enough to tell you that their collective heads were firmly planted where they should be this time of year.
Beau Bennett made Dan Bylsma and most of the Internet look like geniuses with a snipe job from an incredible angle to start the scoring. Evgeni Nabokov barely left anything up top for Bennett to shoot at. How he picked that corner and executed the shot is beyond me.
Keep in mind, this was Bennett’s first NHL playoff game. That shot announced to the world that he’s not afraid of hockey’s biggest stage.
A year ago, the Penguins got off to a quick start in both Games 1 and 2 against the Flyers and let up off the gas. They seem to have learned their lesson, because once the Penguins smelled blood in the water, they kept attacking relentlessly.
The most impressive part of last night’s win might have been how the Penguins came out in the second period. Up 2-0, the Penguins sensed what the rest of us did as well. One more goal will probably be enough to put this one away.
Kris Letang delivered on the power play with a great shot from the left faceoff circle for that crucial third goal. But, the Penguins weren’t done there.
If there was any doubt about who was winning Game 1 even with a 3-0 lead, Pascal Dupuis eradicated it just 31 seconds later. Dupuis redirected a shot by Mark Eaton, collected his own rebound and deposited into the cage behind Nabokov for his second goal of the game.
The goal not only put the Penguins up 4-0, but it also sent Nabokov to the bench for only the second time this season. The only other time Nabokov was pulled this year was during a 6-1 loss to the Penguins on March 10.
Tanner Glass also scored. Yes, the same Tanner Glass that only had one goal and one assist in the entire 48-game regular season scored last night.
The point being, the Penguins didn’t let the Islanders up off the mat. They introduced the Islanders to playoff hockey and pretty much told them to buckle up for what’s to come.
The Penguins physicality was on full display for the entire 60 minutes as well. They came out and started hitting anything that moved.
One key target of the Penguins was John Tavares, who spent much of the contest picking himself up off the ice. By the third period, you could see the frustration on his face. Every time he touched the puck, he was taking a hit.
Also keep in mind, the Penguins were without Brooks Orpik last night. However, Murray more than made up for the absence of Orpik.
Several times throughout the game, an Islander would take a run at Murray and it looked as if they were skating into a brick wall. He was exactly what the defense corps was lacking when Ray Shero traded for him.
Murray also stuck up for his teammates at times as well.
Late in the third period, Marty Reasoner clipped Jussi Jokinen in the neutral zone. Initially, it appeared as if the two had gone knee-to-knee. Upon review, it looks as if their skates collided.
Jokinen was shaken up on the play and Reasoner was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct penalty.
Let me just say, this was absolutely the right call. Reasoner clearly extended his leg out at Jokinen. It was a reckless play and he deserves to sit out Game 2 due to a suspension from the league.
I understand players on the wrong end of a blowout want to send a message and show some fight, but this was an utterly dangerous play.
After the hit, Murray, Jarome Iginla and others swarmed to Jokinen’s defense. Almost everyone on the ice was assessed a 10-minute misconduct, but with two minutes left in the game, it was just the officials’ way of keeping the game under control. Granted, they should have done a better job of that after Glass made it 5-0, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Jokinen was able to skate off under his own power, but there was no update on his condition after the game.
James Neal suffered an injury in the second period after taking a hit from Travis Hamonic along the boards.
Neal fell to the ice awkwardly after the hit, but was able to remain on the ice long enough for Letang to score.
Head coach Dan Bylsma had no update on his condition after the game. Hopefully, they held him out of the rest of the game because of the score, but time will tell.
Meanwhile, Bennett stepped in and took Neal’s place alongside Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin and looked rather comfortable. That line generated a couple of good chances throughout the game. Should Neal not be available for Game 2, I would have no problems seeing Bennett on that line with Tyler Kennedy skating on the fourth line.
Of course, Sidney Crosby could come back and then that last paragraph will be completely pointless.
In any event, there’s not much, if anything, to complain about how the Penguins played in Game 1.
Marc-Andre Fleury earned his sixth playoff shutout, which ties him with Tom Barrasso for the franchise record. Fleury wasn’t great last night, but he didn’t have to be. He made key stops when called upon and that’s what you need out of your goaltender.
The Islanders responded with a solid shift after Bennett’s goal, but Fleury slammed the door a couple of times. Like I said, Fleury was there when called upon and if that doesn’t show you something about his mindset right now, I don’t know what will.
For now, last year seems to be a distant memory and the lessons learned are paying off.
In the end, this was only one game. Mission 16W resumes Friday night.
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