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Starting Off Strong

by Joe Prince-Wright / Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins drew first blood against the Lightning after their 3-0 win in Game 1 of the first-round playoff series between the two teams at CONSOL Energy Center on Wednesday.

Although the players know that it is a long series, the Penguins are certainly glad to have earned the first-ever playoff win in their new home.

“It was huge, and we knew that first game means a lot,” defenseman Zbynek Michalek said.  “We wanted to get that momentum, and playing at home in front of our fans it was a great game.”

The Penguins are looking to ride into Friday night’s Game 2 with confidence after a record crowd of 18,390 created an electric atmosphere inside the arena Wednesday. But they know that after digging themselves a 1-0 deficit, the Bolts will come out hard to try and even the series Friday.

But no matter what happens Friday, one thing is for certain -- that electric playoff atmosphere created by the fans will be a huge advantage in the Penguins' favor.

Head coach Dan Bylsma certainly felt the atmosphere for the first-ever playoff game at CONSOL Energy Center helped on Wednesday.

“The building was awesome,” Bylsma said. “The game, the atmosphere, it was playoffs for sure.”

As the “race to four” is now the “race to three,” many of the Penguins players are looking to build on Wednesday’s Game 1 victory.

Arron Asham, who scored the Penguins' second goal in Game 1, emphasized the importance of picking up a victory and 2-0 lead in the series before heading to Tampa Bay for Games 3 and 4. 

“It is key for us. But Wednesday’s game means nothing unless we win Friday,” Asham said. “I am sure they are going to come out firing and ready to play and we have got to match them.”

This sentiment was echoed by fellow forward Jordan Staal, who knows all about what it takes to get to the Stanley Cup Final, having been there twice already at the tender young age of 22.

“It is nice. But it is still just a race to four,” Staal said of winning Game 1. “Like coach always says, it's only one under the belt, three more to go. It is a big game, it's nice to have, but the next game is even bigger.”

Home-ice advantage in the playoffs is a factor for all to see. The Penguins are 16-11-1 all-time in their first home game when having home-ice advantage in the playoffs.

The Penguins battled all season to gain home-ice this year, and after Wednesday night’s incredible atmosphere generated inside CONSOL Energy Center, it is easy to see why the players have been fighting so hard to get it.

One man who had the fans inside the arena on their feet all evening long was goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury produced his fifth postseason shutout victory and he now sits just one shutout win behind equaling the franchise record of six set by former goaltender Tom Barrasso.

Fleury confessed to feeding off the intense atmosphere created by the “whiteout” inside the arena. The importance of getting the first win and the momentum in the series is key in his eyes.

“The fans were really loud and I think that’s something we fought for all season, to get home-ice advantage,” Fleury said. “I think the fans showed it tonight, why it’s so important to get it.”

Maxime Talbot, another fans' hero after his two goals in Game 7 clinched the 2009 Stanley Cup for the Penguins, summed up how important victory in Game 1 was.

“It is really important,” he said. “We wanted to start the series on the right foot and we did.”
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