"Weathering the storm" is a common theme of when a team is spurred on by emotion, be it mostly through the boost of a home crowd or a timely goal. Despite the irony of a team named the Hurricanes weathering a storm, that's exactly what they had to do. Pittsburgh showed great puck possession, cycling and benefited from two quick strikes.
The first was a thing of beauty; upon being released from the penalty box, Miroslav Satan was in perfect position to collect an indirect wall-pass from Matt Cooke. All the focus was what Satan did next, but when you watch the replay notice the pass from Cooke. It was perfect and sprung Satan all alone. Satan showed the skill of a former 30 goal scorer, deked and went backhand, a perfect breakaway move to make it 1-0 Pens.
The next shift, due to the penalty killers being tired, a mis-mashed unit of Ruslan Fedotenko - Evgeni Malkin - Tyler Kennedy brought the heat and were buzzing all over the place. Philippe Boucher, who would have been a healthy scratch if Sergei Gonchar was 100%, did well on a nicely timed jump into the zone and found Malkin. The league's leading point scorer put a beauty of a backhand past Carolina goalie Cam Ward, it's 2-0 Pens just like that about half-way into the first. Another spare part after thought (in Boucher) comes up big.
The Hurricanes hung on for the rest of the period and got out of it 2-0. In the second period Chad LaRose collected a pass from Erik Cole and beat Marc-Andre Fleury. 2-1 Canes and it would stay that way through the third until Boucher beat Ward with a trickler of a power-play goal to make it 3-1 Pens. In the dying minutes Carolina would score on a 6 on 4 power-play goal of their own by Joe Corvo. That would be all and the Pens hung on for the win.
- Carolina forward (and brother of ex-Penguin Jarkko Ruutu) Tuomo Ruutu left the game and didn't return after Mark Eaton took his legs out while attempting to block a shot/pass in the first period. Eaton, who suffered a season ending injury from a slew foot, would be about the last guy to intentionally injure someone, so we hope that Ruutu will be OK.
- Erik Cole also appeared to suffer an injury. After a whistle, Matt Cooke was swooping into the defensive zone and came in contact of Cole. It never looks good when it's a guy like Cooke, but Cooke appeared to be distraught when the cameras caught him on the bench immediately afterwards. Cole did not play the last 8 minutes of the game, though he did return to the bench and not skate across to the locker-room (unless I missed it later). Hopefully he too will be alright.
- Staying on the injury front, Sergei Gonchar led all Penguins with 21:42 of ice-time. But Gonchar looked less than ideal and sometimes awkward with his skating, it's obvious he's not 100% right.
- Marc-Andre Fleury, an afterthought in the media buildup to Cam "Never Lost an NHL Playoff Series" Ward was also shined in the limelight, making several 10 bell beautiful saves to hold the Penguins in it. A lot of observers have said again and again that Fleury is the "second best goalie" in this series and games past...But Fleury left no doubt who was more solid on this evening.
- Tyler Kennedy--along with the 3rd line-- excelled in a cycling game of puck possession in Carolina's zone. TK rocked off a team high 6 shots (tied with Malkin). Several of Kennedy's shots were from prime scoring zones. One gets the feeling if he keeps working (and you know he will) that Kennedy's gonna pop a goal by sooner or later.
And that's Game One....A spirited, back-and-forth battle with all the speed on display by both teams as predicted. There were great shots and better saves at both ends. There were hits, intensity and power-play goals. We saw injuries, battles and non-stars scoring. Eric Staal (0 goals, 0 assists, -1, 3 shots) and Sidney Crosby (0g, 1a, even and 2 SOG) were generally quiet.
But Evgeni Malkin --lost in the Crosby hype during the media's series buildup, went 1g + 1a and was arguably the most forceful forward in the game with 6 shots. Miroslav Satan -- once banished to the minor leagues and only playing due to Petr Sykora's injury/ineffectiveness scored a huge goal and looked closer to a legit top 6 forward than the bum he did earlier in the year. And Philippe Boucher -- only in the lineup due to a question of Gonchar's status, nabbed the eventual game-winner, plus an assist to earn the deserved first star of the game. And most of all Marc-Andre Fleury out-shined his more heralded peer in Cam Ward to keep the Pens ahead all night.
It was a night of the afterthoughts for Pittsburgh. They did the heavy lifting to give the Pens a 1-0 series advantage.
9 wins down, 7 more to go until the job is done.