[dropcap]M[/dropcap]any questions that surrounded the Pittsburgh Penguins going into the 2013 NHL Playoffs were answered with an exclamation Wednesday in their 5-0 win over the New York Islanders.
Could Marc-Andre Fleury prove that last year’s performance was a fluke? He stopped all 26 shots for his sixth career playoff shutout. Could the Penguins’ new players develop chemistry and play well enough without Sidney Crosby?
They scored five goals.
And finally, could their special teams be better than last year against Philadelphia, especially on the penalty kill? Pittsburgh went 2 for 3 on the powerplay and killed all four penalties.
It might be safe to say Pittsburgh came to silence any naysayers early on.
Pascal Dupuis scored two goals and Kris Letang added a huge goal in the second period as the Penguins took a 1-0 lead in Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
“I thought the guys came out real hard, got some goals early on and got some big hits,” Fleury said in his post-game interview with ROOT Sports. “They blocked a lot of shots when I couldn’t see.”
Pittsburgh came straight out of the gate riding the momentum and electricity generated by the sellout crowd at the Consol Energy Center.
Beau Bennett scored first on the powerplay at 3:30 of the first period when he lifted the puck over Evgeni Nabokov’s shoulder right in front and gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead. Bennett, who was playing in his first career playoff game, got the nod over Tyler Kennedy in the lineup and made it count.
“It meant a lot to get out there and help the team,” Bennett said in the postgame. “For me personally it kind of got my confidence going and my legs under me and that’s definitely a huge boost going into the rest of the game.”
Pittsburgh extended their lead at 13:23 when Dupuis found the loose puck in a scramble in front of Nabokov and poked it in for his 13th career playoff goal.
Nabokov was pulled early in the second period after Pittsburgh made it 4-0 courtesy of Kris Letang and Dupuis.
As expected, the game got very physical after the Penguins took their 5-0 lead which led to potential casualties for Pittsburgh.
James Neal left the game in the second period with an undisclosed injury after taking a hit on the boards. Jussi Jokinen took a knee to the lower body at the end of the game which resulted in a scrum toward the end of the game. Jokinen remained on the ice momentarily but skated his way back to the bench.
The defense did their job in front of Fleury and shut down New York’s top line. MVP candidate John Taveres who was also seeing his first bit of playoff action was not a factor and failed to record a shot on goal.
Head Coach Dan Bylsma was questioned after the game about his strategy and desired matchups for the top line of Taveres, Matt Moulson and Brad Boyes.
“That was one of the lines we wanted to pay attention to,” Bylsma said. “[Brandon] Sutter’s line largely got the assignment tonight. Taveres is a guy we have to be very careful of and aware of, I think we did a good job of doing that tonight at both ends of the rink.”
The Penguins played without Crosby (jaw) and defenseman Brooks Orpik (lower body). Both of their statuses are uncertain for Game 2 on Friday.
Ekiert’s Three Stars:
3. Mark Eaton; D, Penguins- Assist, 8 blocked shots
2. Marc-Andre Fleury; G, Penguins- 26 saves (6th career playoff shutout)
1. Pascal Dupuis; LW, Penguins- 2 goals