Penguins Stun Blue Jackets in Series Opener – Pittsburgh Penguins – PenguinPoop Blog

Penguins Stun Blue Jackets in Series Opener

A little over a year ago, Marc-Andre Fleury was in a groove. Entering a Thursday night clash with Nashville, the Pens goalie had won seven of his past eight starts. He’d win that one, too.

Midway through the contest, however, a blast off the stick of former teammate James Neal caught “Flower” flush, dislodging his mask. Shortly after the game, the Pens’ reigning MVP was diagnosed with a concussion.


The rest of the story, you know. While Fleury convalesced, super rookie Matt Murray stepped forward in Dryden-esque fashion to backstop the Pens to a Stanley Cup. Reduced to the role of cheerleader, the Quebec native soon became fodder for trade rumors.

It seemed somehow fitting that Fleury would emerge from the shadows in the wake of a freak injury to Murray during warmups last night to pace the Pens to a 3-1 victory over Columbus in the postseason opener at PPG Paints Arena.

Had it not been for Flower’s heroics? The Pens likely wouldn’t have survived a Nightmare on Elm Street first period. His 16 saves—including a bold stop on Zach Werenski from the right circle—enabled the Pens to weather the storm and find their seas legs.

Freddy Krueger himself couldn’t have devised a more heinous start. As if shot from the replica Civil War cannon at Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets hammered the Pens to the tune of 23 opening-period hits, 11 in the first four minutes alone.

The building fairly echoed with the sound of crunching bones. Brandon Saad mashed Scott Wilson into the boards 88 seconds in, sending the dazed Pens winger to the locker room for tests and perhaps a whiff of smelling salts.

In rapid succession, Brian Dumoulin was belted by Josh Anderson, Matt Calvert and big Boone Jenner. Sidney Crosby—unusually quiet at the outset—absorbed hits from Blue Jackets bruisers Scott Hartnell and Seth Jones near the three-minute mark. Then the burly Anderson applied the piece de resistance, flattening Evgeni Malkin with a booming check in the neutral zone.

Columbus dominated on the shot clock as well, piling up an astonishing 16-3 edge.

Fleury held firm.

“What can you say about his character and compete level, just to step in and be as good as he was, especially in that first period?” Pens coach Mike Sullivan remarked. “We needed him because they controlled the game.”

In the second period, it was all Penguins. Afforded a chance to regroup during the intermission, the black and gold turned the tables with a vengeance, outshooting the Blue Jackets, 16-4, and beating Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky three times.

Speedy Bryan Rust was the first to cash in. Playing the off wing on a line with Malkin and Phil Kessel, No. 17 burst into the slot a minute into the period and ripped the puck past Bobrovsky’s blocker pad.

Moments later, with Calvert in the box for tripping, the Pens struck on the power play. Working his magic from the left faceoff circle, Kessel took a pass from Justin Schultz and froze Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington with a series of fakes. Barber pole stick flexing like a sapling in the wind, “Phil the Thrill” then blew a wicked shot past Bobrovsky’s glove to stake the Pens to a 2-0 lead.


Nick Bonino provided some insurance late in the period. Following up a sharp-angle shot from Patric Hornqvist, lucky No. 13 slipped around hulking rookie Gabriel Carlsson and banged home the rebound. The goal punctuated a near-perfect period of hockey for the locals and put the Blue Jackets decidedly back on their heels.

The visitors finally solved Fleury at 12:41 of the third period, when the pesky Calvert pounced on a turnover in the slot and beat No. 29 from point-blank range. Rejuvenated, Columbus came at the Pens hard in the closing minutes. But Flower stopped Calvert and Hartnell on rapid-fire chances with 2:24 to play to slam the door.

“He didn’t even blink,” marveled Bonino. “He went in there and made 31 saves for us and was the first star of the game. He was awesome.”


Kessel paced the Pens with a goal and an assist to earn the second star of the game. He unleashed a game-high seven shots on goal.

Playing in his first game since March 15, Malkin had three shots on goal and collected two assists. “Geno” was voted number three star.

Olli Maatta played a strong game for the black and gold. The 22-year-old defenseman finished a plus-1 while registering four blocked shots and an assist in 19:56 of ice time.

On the flip side, Crosby and linemates Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary were held without a point. Sid and the kids were a combined minus-2 for the evening.

Columbus outshot the Pens, 32-29, and led the way in hits (49-35). The Pens blocked 22 shots to the Blue Jackets 12 and won 55 percent of the faceoffs. Carter Rowney led the Pens with six hits, followed by Dumoulin and Tom Kuhnhackl (five each).

No word yet on the nature or severity of Murray’s injury.

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  1. JIM's Gravatar JIM
    April 13, 2017 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    Hey Rick
    FYI…Just watched the Leafs – Caps game and the young Leafs took the Caps to over time before losing 3-2. They Leafs were up 2 nothing at one point..
    Three quick points.
    1.Leafs are as fast or faster than the Caps.( These young Leafs are making the Caps really work. 2. The young Leafs are a big team and they can match the Caps ,hit for hit. 3. Both goalies were the difference. The game could have been 5-2 for either team if not for the play of Anderson and Holtby.
    Plus # 8 was not a factor. The Leafs handled him pretty well.
    To be truthful there were a lot of stunned Caps fans come overtime. This is NOT what they expected. So hopefully the Leafs can take a couple of games and force the Caps to really work for the series win. Better for us. !!

    • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
      April 14, 2017 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      Hey Jim,

      Copy you on Toronto. It’s amazing how quickly Brendan Shanahan, Lou Lamoriello and Mike Babcock have turned things around. The Leafs are loaded with young talent. Matthews, Kadri, Nylander, Marner and Brown—to name a few.

      I was hoping against hope they’d knock off the Caps last night. Alas, Tom Wilson, probably my most hated player, scored the game winner in OT.

      Make no mistake—the Caps are for real. But they’re also a little long in the tooth (seven regulars age 30 or older). It would be great if the Leafs could take a little starch out of ‘em.

      Skipping ahead. It’s not terribly difficult to envision Toronto and Edmonton in the Stanley Cup Final in the not-too-distant future, is it? The Dominion would go wild … 🙂

      Speaking of, congrats on five of the six Canadian teams making the playoffs. I’m sure it makes for a fun spring up north.

      Winnipeg probably should’ve gotten in, too.


  2. Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
    April 13, 2017 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

    Hey all,

    Just an observation. Olli Maatta played as well as I’ve seen him play in a long time. He reminded me of the 18-year-old kid who I thought would become a sure-fire All Star, rather than the sluggish disappointment of the past couple of seasons.

    Apparently, Maatta did a lot of skating and conditioning during his recent stint on the IR. Whatever the reason, he was comparatively quick and fluid last night.

    If Olli can regain his form, it’ll at least partly mitigate the loss of Letang.


    • JIM's Gravatar JIM
      April 13, 2017 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      Hey Rick
      Really glad we won that one last night.After the first period and only 3 shots on net I thought we were gone for sure. After the 2 quick goals in the second, I thought the Bluejackets were “taken back” and they let up a little. Did not seem to keep the fore check as in period one. When Bonino scored the 3rd goal I think they were in shock, so when they regroup for tomorrow’s game we will have to be ready.
      Remember Rick the old New Jersey teams that were so successful by waiting for their opponents to make a mistake and then they always seemed to score. This is what really happened last night. There is no way we can match Columbus in a slug fest. But what we can do is force them to make mistakes and score.
      I will be interested to see if Crosby and his smaller wingers can adjust to the real rough stuff. Poor Jake G. got hit more times last night than an ALi – Frasier fight. Sheary was always looking over his shoulder and the Jackets gave him NO space to operate. By the way they defended him last night they know he is a force and that shot of his can cause them trouble.
      We are 1 up, and 3 more to go….. That is a good sign and MAF did not choke last night either as he has in other play off games in the past 5 years.
      He really was the Pen’s best player last night.
      Lets go pens …

    • April 13, 2017 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      Hey Rick,

      Three thoughts from last nights game:

      I agree with you 100% about Maatta. Unfortunately Daley did not come off looking the same, he seemed to be doing a lot of cheating. I have noticed over the years that when defensemen are over matched, the experienced ones resolve to cheating. Clutching and grabbing, interfering, pretty much anything they can get away with. I don’t believe Daley is 100%, his blistering slapshot wasn’t there either which is why he resolved to passing 99% of the time. Hopefully he gets back to full strength soon.

      Bonino, Bonino, Bonino. Wow, what a game! Not Intimidated one bit, he went straight to the net every chance he got and saved the day at the end blocking shot after shot. You could tell after two blocked shots, towards the end there, he was physically hurt and just kept going.

      Columbus looked tired after the first period. I know everyone that comments here has muchos love for the big guys, but come playoff time they get tired chasing the little guys around. It worked right into your boxer analogy the other day. Let the slugger keep slugging until he gets tired.

      • Rick Buker's Gravatar Rick Buker
        April 13, 2017 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

        Hey Phil and Jim,

        I felt like I was watching my worst nightmare unfold during the first period last night. The way Columbus was hitting early on, I was afraid we wouldn’t have anybody left after the game.

        A gym buddy opined (after the fact) that he didn’t think the Blue Jackets could keep up that pace. Thank goodness he was right.

        Kind of like George Foreman coming out and whaling away at a rope-a-dopin’ Muhammad Ali all those years ago. After a while, big George couldn’t keep those massive arms of his up. Then Ali came off the ropes…

        Jim, to your point about the Crosby line, I was shocked by how ineffective they were. With all that skill and speed, I really thought Sid and the kids would be the difference maker. After all, they’d made everyone else look silly. But Columbus handled them remarkably well.

        As an aside, as much as I love him, I sure wish Guentzel would quit tossing the puck into the middle of the ice in his own zone. A turnaround goal-against waiting to happen.

        Phil, agree 100% about Bonino. I didn’t watch him as closely as you. But, man, is he clutch. And while a lot of our guys (most notably Matt Cullen) gave the puck away in the closing moments, “Bones” was at his shot-blocking grittiest and best.

        He and Kessel really step up when it counts. Money players, both.

        Malkin was big, too.



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