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Notebook: First Period Frenzy Fuels Pens

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins
Much ado had been made prior to Wednesday’s game about the offensive firepower of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But after just the first 20 minutes of play, it's the Penguins’ offensive firepower that’s now the talk of the town.

The Penguins got onto the board just seven seconds into the game when Evgeni Malkin intercepted a pass off the opening faceoff and drove to the net for the score.

He came just one second from tying the fastest opening goal in Penguins history, which was scored in six seconds by Jean Pronovost on March 25, 1976, against St. Louis. It was the fastest goal in the NHL since Joe Nieuwendyk tallied in seven seconds for Dallas in 1998.

“I think right off the hop, we jumped on the puck,” defenseman Kris Letang said, who tallied three assists. “It was pretty good, it gave us a lot of momentum right away.”

“It’s a whole different game if we don’t get the start we get,” captain Sidney Crosby said. “We did a good job, shift after shift, just going at it.”

That goal started an absolute barrage by the Penguins on the Lightning, as they proceeded to score a total of four goals within a 7:35 span to jump to a 4-0 lead.

Chris Conner scored just 2:16 after Malkin’s goal to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead. Tyler Kennedy scored just under five minutes later, with Chris Kunitz tallying the first of his three goals just 25 seconds after him to give the Penguins their third and fourth goals.

Kunitz rounded out the first period scoring by re-directing an Alex Goligoski blast past Lightning goalie Dan Ellis with 1:04 remaining in the first to get his second of the night and Pittsburgh’s fifth of the period.

The Penguins’ 5-0 lead after 20 minutes was definitely impressive. But what was even more impressive was that the Penguins didn’t sit back and rest on their five-goal cushion – they stuck to their guns for the remaining 40 minutes.

“I think coming out of the first with the score 5-0 kind of changes the rest of the game a little bit,” head coach Dan Bylsma.

“We definitely played the first period with more of an 80-20 percent range, which was awesome against a really good team who can take it to you if you don’t do the same," he continued. "I think the rest of the game the guys kept playing the right way. We didn’t change or deviate away from the game plan, we didn’t cheat our game. We kept playing hard and playing the right way. The power play was good and got us some goals as well. I like that formula.”

The three-day break the Penguins had certainly helped fuel their fast start, as the Lightning had battled to an intense 1-0 overtime victory on Tuesday night against Washington.

But the Penguins were more worried about the momentum Tampa Bay might have had entering Wednesday’s game, rather than assuming the Bolts would be tired.

“That’s the M.O. of our team,” defenseman Alex Goligoski said, who scored a goal and three assists. “We’re hard workers. We knew we had to get off to a fast start. They came off a big win last night, and sometimes teams kind of ride that wave and then come in and throw you on your heels. But we had a great start. It was hard work and we seemed to play that way the whole way through.”

Alex Goligoski’s increased confidence on the ice resulted in his first-career four-point night on Wednesday.

The third-year defenseman scored the Penguins’ eighth goal and added three assists for a career high four points in Pittsburgh’s victory. Two of his helpers came on the power play, when he sent shots to the net that Kunitz was able to deflect into the cage.

“Alex today showed what he can do there,” Bylsma said. “He had the shooter’s mentality. He certainly can skate going across the line, but we were looking for that shot presence that attracts attention. And he certainly did that.”

“He was a threat to shoot,” Kunitz said. “When he did shoot, it was areas where guys could get sticks on them. And then he came down and scored that eighth goal. It was a good quality shot, so it’s good to see him get some confidence and time back there.”

Goligoski’s tally might have been one of the prettiest goals of the game. While entering the Tampa Bay zone on a 4-on-1 rush with his teammates, he displayed patience that would make Mother Teresa jealous. Goligoski waited until he had the perfect opening before sniping a shot in the top right corner.

“I waited, waited,” he said. “I wanted to go over to (Matt) Cooke there, but the defenseman went over to him ... I was just kind of waiting for the D to make a play on me so I could move it over, but he never did. So I just tried to make a shot.”

And what a shot it was.

With 17:23 left in the second, Steven Stamkos got hauled down on a breakaway and was awarded a penalty shot with his team down by five goals.

But in an ironic twist, one of the NHL’s most dangerous snipers lost the puck and subsequently lost his footing before making it to the net.

Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury reacted quickly, sprinting to the puck and batting it out of the zone.

“I think it just shows that it happens to even the best players,” he said. “I wasn't sure what to do, if he could get back up and come back, because the puck was still moving forward. So I just went for it.”

“Good thing for us that Flower could get out and block the puck,” Kunitz said.

Kris Letang tallied three assists on the night to give him 36 points on the season. Entering Wednesday’s game, he had been at 33 points, which tied his previous career-high set in 2008-09 through 74 games.

Ben Lovejoy also notched the first multiple-point effort of his career, earning two assists to give him five on the season.
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