The Penguins entered the Stanley Cup playoffs as the favorite to rise out of the Eastern Conference.
And 60 minutes into postseason play, I’ll bet they’re still the favorite.
Little went wrong for the Penguins in their lopsided 5-0 victory against the NY Islanders in Game 1 at CONSOL Energy Center Wednesday night. Pittsburgh won pretty much every aspect of the game.
Zone time: overwhelming in the Penguins’ favor
Physicality: hit everything and initiated the contact
Execution: fluid puck movement and smart decision making
Compete: won nearly every puck battle and sacrificed their bodies with 22 blocked shots (eight of which came off Mark Eaton’s appendages alone)
Power play: scored twice in four tries (and the team just ran out the game clock on the final man-advantage opportunity)
Penalty kill: went a perfect four for four against a vaunted Islanders power play
And most importantly:
Goals allowed: Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves for his sixth career shutout (tying Tom Barrasso for the franchise record)
Goals for: five scores and could have been more if the team didn’t ease up in the third period
The dominating performance isn’t too surprising considering the Penguins entered the series highly battle tested in postseason play (1,159 career playoff games, 13 Stanley Cups, 24 Cup Final appearances), while the Islanders entered as novices (193 career playoff games, 16 players making NHL playoff debut).
The Penguins gave the Islanders a quick lesson on the ratcheted up-tempo, speed, physicality and intensity of the National Hockey League playoffs. New York’s most gifted player, John Tavares, was held without a shot. Although he surely ended the night with several new bruises as the Penguins finished heavy checks on him at every chance.
Even New York’s most experienced players, goaltender Evgeni Nabokov (80 playoff games played), didn’t last long under the Penguins’ onslaught. After 21:51 minutes and allowing four goals on 15 shots, Nabokov became a spectator on the Islanders bench.
And even with all the Penguins veteran players, it was a rookie that opened the scoring. Twenty-one-year-old Beau Bennett scored his first career postseason goal on the first shift of his first game – and what a sick goal it was. He had about five inches of net to shoot at, and he somehow sniped a perfectly placed shot into the twine just 3:30 into the game.
After Pascal Dupuis scored his second goal of the night to make it 4-0 (32 seconds after Kris Letang made it 3-0), the game was over. True, that goal was only two minutes into the second period with 38 minutes to play, but even the 18,612 in attendance knew it was lights out for the Islanders as they began their customary “wooing” – which has become the vocal equivalent of the victory cigar.
As the game wound down to the final 10 minutes of play, the “wooing” had given way to a chant of “We want the Cup! We want the Cup!” The fans were already looking past the Islanders.
However, the Penguins are not.
Pittsburgh needs 16 wins to assuage the fans’ demand. While that is certainly the final goal, their focus now is on winning four games to get to the next round. And the Islanders will no doubt want to avenge this loss. Both teams will have a clean slate when the puck drops for Game 2 Friday at CONSOL Energy Center.
There are no style points in hockey.
As Eaton noted, “Winning 5-0 is the same as winning 1-0 in overtime.”
You can’t get four wins in one game.
But if the Penguins play the next three games the way they did in Game 1, four games may be all they need to get there.