PITTSBURGH -- The last time the Pittsburgh Penguins skated off the Mellon Arena ice, there were tears. On Wednesday night, there only were smiles.
That's what happens when you thoroughly outplay your biggest rival at the start of the most important time of the year.
The Penguins scored on their first power play 4:41 into the game, scored again 1:39 into the second period and breezed to a 4-1 victory. Their speed and skill thoroughly flummoxed the Flyers, whose only recourse in the final minutes was to try to "send a message" for the next game.
There was a commercial that ran back in September in which Sidney Crosby stepped out of a picture of the immediate aftermath of Game 6 last spring in Pittsburgh. Unseen are the Detroit Red Wings celebrating with the Stanley Cup. What the photo shows is Crosby and his dejected teammates slumped against the boards.
"This is a tough one, getting this close and not winning the Cup," he says in the ad. "But I know it'll make our team even stronger."
That certainly looked like the case Wednesday night.
Crosby attempted to downplay it, but a loss like the one last spring is something that lingers. Hockey players have longer memories than they let on in public.
"You take the experiences that you went through, but if there's any motivation it's that feeling," Crosby said. "I think we went through a lot of different things over the course of that run."
So coming out in front of their 108th consecutive sellout crowd, the Penguins wanted to -- needed to -- get off to a fast start. The Flyers' undisciplined play helped them, starting with Arron Asham's penalty just 4:26 into the game.
That let the Penguins' all-star power-play jump on the ice, and with the roaring crowd encouraging them, Crosby turned a tipped pass into a power-play goal that set the tone for the rest of the game.
"One of our keys to the game was getting out and having a good start," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "Certainly we got the advantage with the power-play goal, but I think the whole period long we forced them to play in the (defensive) zone a lot, which is one of the situations we want to keep replicating."
The more they played in the Philadelphia end, the more they forced their will on the Flyers. The Penguins were the faster, more-disciplined team, and when Philadelphia completely abandoned its game in the third period, the Penguins continued to play smart and tacked on two goals. Only Simon Gagne's late tally spoiled Marc-Andre Fleury's shutout bid.
Fourteen of the 20 players the Penguins dressed in Game 1 played during last season's Cup Final run, and one can't help but believe that the experience helped them maintain their composure.
"You want to start the series off right, especially being at home," Crosby said. "You want to start on the right foot. Last year's done, and we'll take the experience from it, but I don't think that was on anyone's mind."
What was on their mind was coming out fast and strong, and staying with it.
"I think one of our goals was to set the tone for the game and certainly after the first we accomplished that," Bylsma said.
Now that focus turns to doing it again in Game 2, and all throughout what they hope is a long playoff run.
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Penguins' power play was only 20th in the League during the regular season, but 16 seconds after Arron Asham went off for hooking 4:26 into the game, they cashed in on their first opportunity. Sidney Crosby took the puck through the right circle and passed to Evgeni Malkin below the goal line. Malkin tried to center a pass to Chris Kunitz, but the puck bounced to Crosby, who kicked it onto his stick and stuffed it under Martin Biron. That set the tone for the game as the Pens' built off that confidence.
Brooks Orpik played 20:48, blocked a game-high eight shots and was credited with five hits, anchoring the Pens' solid defensive effort.
The Penguins' best line was the threesome of Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy. They shut down the Flyers' big guns and created numerous chances offensively, including Kennedy's goal 1:39 into the second period.
The Flyers were the only team in the League with six 25-goal scorers -- Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne, Mike Richards, Scott Hartnell, Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul. But in Game 1, that group combined for just six shots in the first two periods and 18 for the game -- just 10 at even-strength.
Hartnell committed four penalties and took just two shots. The Flyers were the most-penalized team in the League this season, which hurts them in two ways. One, the Penguins' power play can be lethal if it starts clicking. Two, the Flyers use their top forwards in all situations. If those players have to extend themselves killing penalties, it will take away from their play in other areas.