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Team defense key to Pens' Game 1 win

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

There are many reasons the Pens were able to defeat the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of their First Round series on Wednesday night. 

Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was spectacular in his emergency start. Phil Kessel elevated his game and scored one of the nastiest goals of the year. The return of Evgeni Malkin sparked the team.

But the biggest reason the Pens picked up a 3-1 win at PPG Paints Arena was the team's defensive play.

"Our team defense was pretty good last game," forward Conor Sheary said. "We limited their chances. That's a strong way to start the series."

The Pens surrendered 32 shots overall in the game, but the bulk of those shots were low-quality scoring chances from the perimeter. Pittsburgh collapsed its coverage around the net and was able to block shots and clear away rebound chances.

"That's our team system, when there is a puck in front or below the net we collapse our coverage and make sure nothing gets around Fleury or loose," Sheary said. "I think we did a pretty good job of clearing those out."

The Pens were outshot 16-3 in the first period. But again, most of those chances were low quality. The best opportunity came off the stick of rookie sensation Zach Werenski with a clear shot from the circle. But Fleury was there to make the stop.

"I don't know if the shots are indicative of the period," center Nick Bonino said. "We didn't play terrible. They had the edge. But I thought we responded well after that."

"Fleury kept us in the game, especially in the first period," defenseman Olli Maatta said. "After that we bear down and didn't give them a lot."

In fact, after surrendering 16 shots in the opening frame the Pens allowed just 16 total the rest of the way.

"Our first period was not our best," forward Patric Hornqvist said. "Then we came out really strong in the second and third and played a really tight game. I don't know if it was nerves or what, but we figured it out and got a big win."

The Blue Jackets pressured late in the game as they tried to mount a comeback. But their final shot of the game came with 2:25 left from Scott Hartnell. Even with the extra attacker, the Jackets couldn't get another puck on net.

Pittsburgh blocked 22 shots in the game, including five in the final two minutes of play. That's the kind of effort and sacrifice it takes to win in the postseason.

"I still think we did a really good job the last seven minutes to defend," Hornqvist said. "We gave up the one really good chance. But other than that we played really well.

"Defense is a group of five, even six with Fleury. He pointed out at times when he wanted to see a shot or block it. It's always a team effort. We all bought into our system last night and that's why we came up with a big win."

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