-- The theme of the night was celebration -- celebration of the Stanley Cup banner raising, celebration of the beginning of the last season at Mellon Arena and a celebration of the start of a new season.
And at the end of the night, just as they did the last time they played in a game that mattered, the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrated a victory Friday night. Sidney Crosby and Tyler Kennedy scored 68 seconds apart in the second period, pacing the Penguins to a 3-2 season-opening victory against the New York Rangers.
The Penguins saw the 20-minute banner-raising ceremony that began the night as one final chance to enjoy the prize they claimed at the end of last season's rainbow. But the minute the banner hit the rafters, that chapter in their hockey lives was over.
"It's just kind of like a beginning and an end, an end to all the celebrations and all that," forward Bill Guerin said. "Now we put it behind us. Now we can begin this season and just move forward."
For Pens captain Sidney Crosby, his mind turned to the fact that this would be the final opening night the ancient Igloo. All he has to do is look across the street at the Consol Energy Center to know where his future lies this time next year.
"It's the last time we're going to have opening night here, so that was going through my mind," Crosby said. "I remember going through those years, little flashbacks of losing and things like that. A lot went through my mind, through the two minutes it took to get up there, whatever it was. Once it was up there it was time to move on."
Move on they did -- and in strong fashion. There was a lot of standing around before the game, but Crosby said his team found its legs soon enough.
"It's easy to maybe use it as an excuse early on, you're sitting around for a little bit (but) I thought it worked to our advantage," he said. "We were skating pretty well and got off to a good start."
That came thanks to Evgeni Malkin. With the Penguins on the power play, Alex Goligoski grabbed a loose puck in the slot and fed it back to Sergei Gonchar at the point. The defenseman sent the puck on net, and Malkin was able to tip it past Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist at 7:48 of the first period.
The Rangers tied the game before the period ended when Chris Drury -- whose holding penalty led to Malkin's goal -- converted Christopher Higgins' pass from in close.
That's where the game stood when Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury tapped into one final memory of last spring. In the dying seconds of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, Fleury went post-to-post in spectacular fashion to deny Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom.
He did it again early in the second period against the Rangers. As Brandon Dubinsky and Vaclav Prospal broke in on a 2-on-1, Dubinsky slid a pass across to Prospal, who one-timed a shot that looked destined for the back of the net until Fleury snared it.
"(Dubinsky) had some room to shoot … and I was kind of waiting for it, and he passed it across," Fleury said. "I just tried to get there as quick as possible. It hit my glove and I was kind of happy about that. It's just a good feeling to be able to start the season by making a save to keep the score tight."
It's that kind of save that has endeared Fleury to his teammates.
"We all appreciate a big save like that," Crosby said. "We make mistakes sometimes and that's what your goalie is there to do, bail you out. That was a great one."
Then Crosby showed why he's a great one, somehow finding his way to the Rangers' crease unmarked. Kris Letang started a breakout in his own end, followed the play and pounced on the rebound of a Guerin shot behind the net. He slid the puck out front to Crosby, who tapped it behind Lundqvist.
Just over a minute later, Jordan Staal won a battle along the wall and sent a pass to Goligoski at the point. Kennedy got enough of the puck to re-direct it behind Lundqvist to make it 3-1.
"I thought at times there were some really good minutes and other times we struggled," Rangers coach John Tortorella said. "They surged on us a couple times, we couldn't handle it. Third goal I thought was a very important goal in the game and I think we just gave it to them. We were breaking out of our end zone, lose the puck, we're not strong on the puck, point shot goes in. … I thought we did some really good things in the second period, had some chances to score some goals. … We had our chances and we didn't (score). Good and bad."
The good came in the form of Marian Gaborik, the sniper imported from Minnesota this summer. In his first game with the Rangers, he was active and quick with the puck in the offensive zone all night and finished with a team-high eight shots. He also scored the Rangers' final goal, zipping the puck under the crossbar from the slot at 5:56 of the third period.
"He's pretty dangerous with the puck, as you can see," Tortorella said. "We're going to rely on him quite a bit to help us score some goals. He scored one tonight, we're hoping to get more out of him each game. I thought he did some good things."
The Penguins also did some good things, starting with a pre-game celebration and ending with a post-game one.
"You want to have a good night on your home opener regardless of banner-raising or what have you," Guerin said. "(The opener is) a big night for every team. And we're glad to get the two points."--Adam Kimelman, NHL.com