The Philadelphia Flyers
proved to be very rude guests on opening night at the new Consol Energy Center.
The primary culprit was rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky
, who made 29 saves in his NHL debut to lead the Flyers to a 3-2 victory, ruining the night for the packed house of 18,289 in the first regular-season game at the Pittsburgh Penguins
' new $321 million state-of-the-art home.
Bobrovsky was such an unknown that Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma couldn't even generate a proper scouting report.
"We were searching for video on him (Thursday) morning," he said. "I think we had three periods of hockey on him though."
Bobrovsky spent the last three seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League before signing a free-agent contract with the Flyers in May. With incumbent starter Michael Leighton
sidelined for a month with a bulging disc in his back, coach Peter Laviolette opted to go with the rookie rather than veteran Brian Boucher -- and was rewarded.
"I thought he played a really good game," Laviolette said. "In the first period, he played really strong and we played sloppy. We turned the puck over far too many times in the defensive zone and in the neutral zone. They generated a lot of opportunities from that and he made save after save in the first."
At 22 years and 17 days, Bobrovsky became the youngest goaltender to win a season-opener in the Flyers' 43-year history, besting Ron Hextall (22 years, 159 days on Oct. 9, 1986). He said it was all in a day's work.
"It wasn't anything out of the ordinary, I wasn't too nervous, I was ready for this," Bobrovsky said through Russian interpreter Alex Gluhovsky. "It doesn't really matter to me whether it's a rivalry or not. It doesn't matter who we play. It's a game and you have to come out and win."
His first NHL victory certainly wasn't easy -- the Penguins rang the post four times behind him. They also were given a power play with 1:13 left in regulation, forcing the Flyers to kill off a 6-on-4 advantage after Pittsburgh pulled Marc-Andre Fleury
for a two-man skating advantage.
"It didn't matter to me whether it was (Evgeni) Malkin or (Sidney) Crosby, I was just following the play making sure I stopped every puck and looking for the shots because I knew they were coming," Bobrovsky said. "It was a little different (dealing with players in the crease) on the power play but I just have to make sure I keep my eyes open and see the puck. I had the opportunity to get used to it in the preseason, so at this point, it wasn't that new anymore."
Bylsma felt Bobrovsky did just enough.
"He found a way to keep it out of the net," Bylsma said. "I think we hit a couple posts and it looked like we had some opportunities. A goalie plays well when it stays out of the net and when we had good opportunities, he was able to do that."
Bobrovsky used the preseason to make a name for himself and make a believer out of Laviolette.
"Both (Boucher and Bobrovsky) were good in camp and I thought that Bob had a solid month," Laviolette said. "I don't think it was a fluke. He had a good 30 days … a solid body of work from time we started watching him to the time we picked as our goalie (Thursday). Bob went in there and did his job."
After a scoreless first period that saw Bobrovsky make 15 saves, Danny Briere
scored the first goal in the new building at 2:51 of the second period, deflecting a shot past Fleury. Blair Betts
made it 2-0 at 17:15 by knocking in a rebound.
"(Pittsburgh) was setting the tone and we weren't doing what we wanted to do," Flyers defenseman Braydon Coburn
said. "We turned a lot of pucks over and didn't get them out of the zone and when you do that, you get tired and that's when they start grinding you down on the cycle. I thought in the second we turned that around, got pucks out and started to put pressure on them."
The Penguins did come energized to open the third and needed just 44 seconds to get their first goal in their new home. Tyler Kennedy
, a right-handed shooter, got the puck at the bottom of the left circle and whipped a shot that went past Coburn and behind Bobrovsky.
The Penguins got a chance to tie the game when Andrej Meszaros
was called for roughing at 3:15 but Claude Giroux
restored the Flyers' two-goal lead at 4:55 with a shorthanded goal, stealing an ill-advised backhand pass from Kris Letang
to Paul Martin
just inside the Penguins' blue line before breaking in alone and beating Fleury.
The Pens answered just 19 seconds later when defenseman Alex Goligoski connected off a tip-in between from between the circles, but were unable to get the tying goal.
With the Penguins and the full house ready to celebrate their new home. Pittsburgh came out firing and tested Bobrovsky early and often, outshooting the Flyers 15-9 in the opening period. But neither team scored until Briere, stationed at the bottom of the right circle, made a picturesque deflection of Mike Richards' pass from the top of the circle, tipping the puck just over Fleury's glove and inside the right post.
The Flyers killed off successive power plays by the Penguins before Betts extended the lead to 2-0 when he knocked home a rebound off assists from Darroll Powe and James van Riemsdyk
. Prior to the opening faceoff, Hockey Hall of Famer and Penguins legend Mario Lemieux sent the crowd into a frenzy when he revealed a bottle and proceeded to christen the ice with melted ice from Mellon Arena.
The Penguins seemed inspired from the outset, too, testing the Flyers first-year goalie early and often. But Bobrovsky, composed throughout, stopped all 15 shots while his teammates found their skating legs. He also caught a break two minutes into the game when Penguins defenseman Martin had a clear view of an open net off a rebound from between the circles but fanned on the attempt.
The Flyers won despite the absence of All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger
, who remains sidelined with an ailing right knee. The Penguins, who were without the services of center Jordan Staal
(foot), dominated the Flyers last season, winning five of six games.
"I thought our defensemen played a terrific game," Laviolette said. "Kimmo (Timonen) and all of them ... a great job. They broke up plays, blocked a lot of shots and were in good position."