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Penguins/Blue Jackets Game 1 Recap: Pittsburgh uses big 2nd period to win 3-1

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The Pittsburgh Penguins take Game 1 with a 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Pens play poorly in the 1st period (after Matt Murray is injured in warmups) but Fleury makes 16 saves. Pittsburgh fires up in the 2nd, scoring 3 goals and holds on for a 3-1 win.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pregame

During warmups, starting goalie Matt Murray talks to the trainer and leaves early....Surprise, it's Marc-Andre Fleury starting. Coach Mike Sullivan directly said earlier in the day that Murray was in:

But the team didn't send down 3rd string Tristan Jarry and Murray didn't dress for the last 2 regular season games (though he did practice yesterday and start the warmup tonight). No concrete information now, probably not too much coming but buckle up. The NBC broadcast showed Murray during the warmups seeming to look uncomfortable while getting loose and extending his legs to make saves. He walked off gingerly.

The rest of the lineup is as expected from practice yesterday, most notably Evgeni Malkin is back.

1st period

Pretty even at first, Scott Wilson absorbs a big hit from Brandon Saad and briefly is pulled to the dressing room but returns.

Columbus hitting everything in sight, the Penguins defense (namely Justin Schultz and Olli Maatta ) are jumping into the play very aggressively.

Maatta makes a turnover in d-zone but Sidney Crosby is there with a nice defensive play around the net (made 2 in this period, actually).

Evgeni Malkin stick-handles around the whole Blue Jackets team but the shot from Bryan Rust is broken up.

With 7 minutes left NBC has shots 9-3 in favor of Columbus, but that's a bit misleading since scoring chances are just 3-2 (also for CBJ) at this point.

Conor Sheary races on the backcheck to track his man and stop a pass, yep it's the playoffs alright.

The shots continue to pile up. Maatta goes to the box when the NZ ref catches a hook (but he was cool with Crosby getting tripped earlier in the o-zone...) and CBJ gets their first PP. A bunch of shots but nothing really all that good.

Shots end up a shocking 16-3. Not sure about scoring chances, but to this eye there weren't really many quality ones. But it's never good when that much rubber is being directed at the wrong net.

2nd period

The Pens come back stronger, Crosby line a decent first shift then a the Malkin line gets out there. Trevor Daley makes a nice, strong outlet pass up to the o-zone blue-line to Malkin, Geno passes over to Phil Kessel who deadens a puck with his skate over for Rust right in the middle of the ice. Rust makes no mistake, blasting a shot by Sergei Bobrovsky who hadn't seen a shot in over 16 minutes.

Pittsburgh gets their first power play of the game, and the top unit strikes. Justin Schultz makes a hard pass down to Kessel, Phil hesitates, hesitates and from a stand-still rips a shot over the far shoulder of Bobrovsky. 2-0 just like that.

Ironically the defenseman just standing there doing nothing is Scott Harrington, former Pens draft pick and a player involved in the trade to get Kessel. Life's funny like that sometimes.

Next shift out, Kessel goal-hangs and gets a breakaway. Makes a nice shoulder fake to backhand move but Bobrovsky stays with him and makes a save on the backhand shot. Game remains 2-0 and my goodness that would have blown the roof off the place.

Nick Bonino does what Nick Bonino does: go to the front of the net and score a goal in the playoffs. 3-0 Pittsburgh.

Columbus takes a penalty than ogre Scott Hartnell tries to goon it up but no dice. The Pens get a power play and open up a shooting gallery, but don't score. Still pretty encouraging to see a lot of zone time, puck movement and chances tried.

Period ends with Pittsburgh flipping the script with a 16-4 edge in shots on the period (and now at 20-19 overall in favor of CBJ). Goals a big 3-0 difference. Another important note- look at how well (to this point) the Pens have done keeping all the shots out of the high danger zone from right in front

3rd period

Game seems to settle down a bit, Pens just trying to keep it moving and get out of here. Fleury goes behind the net (and when has anything good happened from that) and the Pens can't get it out of the zone. Matt Calvert gets the puck soon after and spins, makes a nice shot over MAF's glove to get CBJ on the board. 3-1 with 7:19 left to go.

Might be surrendering shots and shot attempts, but I'll gladly trade that for 2 high danger chances in 53 minutes

And that about does it for the game, Columbus pulls Bob but the Pens don't score. Game ends 3-1.

Some Thoughts

  • The refs made about 3 waiving off icing calls that made no sense in the 2nd. The first two hurt the Pens, but nothing much came of it. The third seemed to discombobulate the Jackets enough to give Patric Hornqvist and Bonino the space they needed to work magic and score.
  • The NBC (OK technically USA channel ) feed showed what looked like a clear replay of Malkin allowing the whole puck to come back over the blue line when he was setting up to make his centering pass on the first goal. The Columbus coaches were studying their iPads or whatever, but they did not risk their timeout (and future challenge) on that play. Could have been a turning point as it looked like that one would have been called back.
  • Slow pace of game with a ton of icings. 47 faceoffs in the first 40 minutes alone. Crosby led the Pens winning 11-of-14 through 2 periods, which along with a couple of good defensive plays, Sid had a great two-way night.
  • So what's the bigger deal, the GOOD (whatever happened for adjustments/change in the 1st intermission and the response in the 2nd period) or the BAD (starting out flat, getting pinned in the d-zone a lot and giving up so many shots). Almost a Rorschach test for optimistic/pessimistic fan. Though I think most would agree that a fairly convincing and relatively easy playoff win is always a good night, those antsy moments in the 1st period not withstanding.
  • Speaking of, Mike Sullivan told Pierre Mcguire during an in-game interview the Murray injury happened in pre-game warmup and they would have to evaluate him later. But a little convenient for them they didn't send Jarry to the minors, eh? Seems kind of obvious Murray's been dealing with something (maybe since the NJD save he looked a little gimpy after a Taylor Hall breakaway save) and just isn't right yet.
  • Which, good thing the Pens didn't trade Fleury after all. I don't really think he had to make that many GREAT saves, but again winning any playoff game -- and stopping 16 shots in the 1st period to keep the game tied -- is no joke. Big time work and good for him, well-deserved after a roller coaster season. We may never find out, but one would have to think he sort of had an inkling that he might have been playing this game and it wasn't a complete shock to start this one.
  • I don't know if you can flip a switch for playoffs or not, but tonight Kessel and Bonino were great again, just like many nights last post-season.
  • The much maligned Maatta/Daley pair were on ice for 20 minutes (19:40 for Daley, 19:56 for Maatta), saw no goals against, helped on goals for and the Penguins won the game. Well whaddya know. Both were almost the highest Corsi pair for Pittsburgh on the night which is quite rich too considering all the hand-wringing about them around the twitter and the internets.
  • In fact, if the Pens had a weak pair with performance, it was Dumoulin-Hainsey. Both struggled at times with the puck on their stick in the d-zone. That was eye test and Natural stat trick backed it up: Hainsey had just a 20.8% CF%, Dumo wasn't much better at 28.0%.
  • Nice to see Sullivan putting Matt Cullen out as a LW two different times on 2 different lines in the dying minutes of the game, just in case they needed another center. The vet still adds a lot of value.
  • The Blue Jackets power play is very dreadful (7 for last 73 after tonight). The Pittsburgh power play is very dangerous. This is a big difference of the two teams and the longer it continues to trend this way for the Pens winning the special teams battle (as they did tonight with a 2/2 PK and 1/3 PP vs. CBJ 2/3 PK and 0/2 PP) the more likely a series win becomes.

Game 1 goes to Pittsburgh, a solid win after not having Murray available. Fleury was good early and then in the 2nd period Kessel showed out and it was all downhill from there. The Pens look to hold serve for home ice on Friday night for Game 2.