Well, that was weird. Last night, the Penguins took a 1-0 series lead as they defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 at PPG Paints Arena. And just like last year’s opening round playoff game against the New York Rangers, this one had plenty of unordinary elements to it.
Mr. Game One, Too
This time last year, Marc-Andre Fleury was texting then-third-stringer Jeff Zatkoff to let him know he was the Game 1 starter. I still think this is an odd procedure, but whatever, it worked. Anyways, fast forward a year, and rewind to last night, and Fleury was the one getting the unsuspecting call—only this time during warm-ups—as Matt Murray suffered what was deemed by Mike Sullivan as a lower body injury.
Now, let’s not go completely apples to apples here. As much as most would prefer Murray, I think we can all agree that Fleury being counted on to win a home playoff game is just a touch more comforting than having to rely on Jeff Zatkoff.
In the end, Fleury made like, uh Zatkoff, and helped the Pens get out to a 1-0 series lead by making 31 saves in his spot start.
Flat as a Pancake
It’s Game 1 of the playoffs. You begin the postseason as reigning Cup champions. You’re without your best defenseman and are icing a few bodies that haven’t played in double-digit consecutive games. You’re up against a team that so desperately would like to manufacture a rivalry against you— despite never having won a playoff game against you in regulation—with a penchant for extracurricular shenanigans. And moments before puck drop, you find out that your projected starter in net can’t go.
In fewer words, I would have understood—or at least thought it was normal—if the Pens came out flat last night. That is if they came out a little flat. Not as flat as a Mike Tomlin-coached team versus an inferior opponent. They were outshot 16-3 by a Columbus team that was previously winless in six of their last seven games—not good.
After a lackluster first period, the Penguins followed a formula that worked so well for them last spring as they dominated their opponent in the middle frame—flipping the script in terms of shots on goal, and taking a 3-0 lead into the third (insert statistic about Pens record when leading after two periods here).
We all knew this was coming, right?
I don’t know about you guys, but I’m ready for this more-than-a-single-goal lead the Pens will have after the 2nd period— Brandon Fischetti (@guinswin87) April 13, 2017
Last year, he returned from an extended absence in Game 2 against the Rangers. This year, Malkin was ready to go for Game 1 against the Blue Jackets. And just like last year, he earned points in his return—only this time, two of them.
As that Rangers series went on, Malkin continued to progress, notching points in every game, including two goals and two assists in Game 4. I think he will be a catalyst for the Pens in this series, especially once the series shifts to Columbus.
Raise your hand if you were down on Nick Bonino for 9/10ths of the season. Say “I” if Phil’s 14-game goal drought had you at least a little bit concerned. Remember when Mike Sullivan had to answer questions as to whether or not Bryan Rust’s injury in February—I honestly lost track of all his injuries this season—was of the season-ending variety?
Yeah, well it's April now, so they’re all scoring goals.
As always with the playoffs, it’s best to not get too high after wins or too low after losses. But, this was a fine start for the Pens, despite not playing their best hockey. And the fact that they were able to jump out to the series lead by following a recipe that led to much of last postseason’s success—plus a little Game 1 weirdness for good measure— is hopefully a sign of things to come.