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Marc-Andre Fleury helps Penguins win Game 1

Surprise starter makes 31 saves to defeat Blue Jackets in place of Matt Murray

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- Less than a half hour before puck drop Wednesday, Marc-Andre Fleury didn't expect to start Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But Fleury did start, and he made 31 saves for a 3-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets to open the Eastern Conference First Round at PPG Paints Arena.

"I just tried to approach it as a regular game," Fleury said. "It was fun. It's been a while. I was a little nervous in the beginning, maybe from not expecting it. The guys did a great job in front of me too, all game long, blocking shots and taking rebounds away. At the end, it was a great feeling."

Game 2 in the best-of-7 series is here Friday. 

 

[WATCH: All Blue Jackets vs. Penguins highlights | RELATED: Complete Columbus vs. Pittsburgh series coverage]

 

Matt Murray, who won 15 games last postseason when the Penguins won the Stanley Cup, was going to start but was injured during warmups. Murray was scratched, and Tristan Jarry became the backup.

"The fact that we have [Fleury] and Matt, I think gives us a comfort level," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said, "because we know they're both No. 1 goalies. I said to these guys all along, 'I need both of you.' It's just the way the game is."

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm1: Sullivan on Fleury's performance in win

Fleury won a Stanley Cup Playoff game for the first time since April 18, 2015, when he made 23 saves in a 4-3 win against the New York Rangers. He appeared in his 101st playoff game, which tied Tom Barrasso for the most by a Penguins goalie.

Shortly after becoming the starter, Fleury stopped all of the Blue Jackets' 16 shots in the first period. The Penguins had three first-period shots.

Bryan Rust gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 1:15 of the second period. Evgeni Malkin crossed the blue line before passing to Phil Kessel, who used his skate to direct the puck to Rust for a shot past Sergei Bobrovsky's blocker.

Kessel made it 2-0 with a power-play goal at 3:45. Malkin had two assists in his first game after missing 13 with an upper-body injury believed to be to his shoulder.

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm1: Kessel, Fleury on opening round win

"I still think we were OK after the first one. It was their first chance of the game," Columbus coach John Tortorella said. "After the second one, I thought we lost ourselves for a little bit. They surged and we kind of hung on there for a bit."

Nick Bonino extended the lead to 3-0 at 16:25. After Olli Maatta sent a stretch pass off the end boards behind the Columbus goal, Bonino retrieved the puck and dumped it to Patric Hornqvist, who shot off Bobrovsky. Bonino got to the rebound and wrapped a shot around the goalie.

Matt Calvert made it 3-1 at 12:41 of the third period.

"It's just that lull. You have to find a way to minimize those," Columbus captain Nick Foligno said. "And also, the offensive guys in here, we have to find a way to capitalize. Their offensive guys did, and that's pretty much the difference in the game."

 

Goal of the game

After receiving a pass from Justin Schultz, Kessel held the puck for a few seconds while drifting toward the middle of the left circle. He then shot past defenseman Scott Harrington for Pittsburgh's second goal in 2:30.

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm1: Kessel picks the corner for PPG

 

Save of the game

Bobrovsky kept the Penguins from taking a 3-0 lead when Kessel had a breakaway in the second period. Kessel drove toward the crease before going forehand to backhand, but Bobrovsky made a sprawling blocker save at 6:17.

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm1: Bobrovsky lunges for a terrific save

 

Highlight of the game

Rust's goal gave the Penguins a lead despite being outshot 16-4 through the first 21:15. Pittsburgh outshot Columbus 16-4 in the second period.

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm1: Rust buries Kessel's skate pass

 

Unsung performance of the game

After the first period, the Penguins' fourth-line effectively neutralized the Blue Jackets' attack. Forward Carter Rowney was at the forefront with six hits, which led Pittsburgh.

 

They said it

"I think we didn't play a good first 20 minutes. After, we played our game. I mean, we used our speed. … We scored the first goal, and after we felt so much better." -- Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin

 

"I think they put us on our heels a little bit, but I think we had a pretty good third period. Something to build on for Game 2. It's a marathon, it's not a sprint." -- Blue Jackets forward Brandon Dubinsky

 

Need to know

Sullivan said he expected more information on Murray on Thursday. … Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey played his first Stanley Cup Playoff game after playing 907 regular-season games in 14 NHL seasons. Hainsey had two blocked shots in 19:25. … Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski returned from missing four games with an upper-body injury. He played 25:19, which was third on the Blue Jackets.

 

What's next

Game 2 of Eastern Conference First Round at PPG Paints Arena on Friday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVA Sports 2, ROOT, FS-O)

 

Video: Kessel, Fleury lead Pens past Jackets in Game 1

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