PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins were probably pretty happy that they ended up keeping Marc-Andre Fleury on their roster this season because they needed him on Wednesday night in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Fleury was a late entry into the starting lineup on Wednesday after Matt Murray went down with a lower body injury in warmups and ended up stopping 31 of 32 shots in a 3-1 win over the Blue Jackets.
Even though the Penguins ended up winning by two goals this was far from a cakewalk game for Fleury and the Penguins, especially early on. The Penguins came out completely flat in the first period, playing what was perhaps one of their worst periods of the season and allowing Columbus to take 16 of the game’s first 19 shots.
Penguins vs. Blue Jackets: Stream on NBC Sports
The actual play on the ice was every bit as lopsided as that shot differential would indicate, and it seemed as if the absence of Kris Letang was finally going to take its toll on the Penguins’ defense. Their breakouts were a mess, they couldn’t get out of their own zone, and Columbus was completely dictating the play.
Fleury was able to keep the door shut long enough for the Penguins to regroup between periods and come out flying in what would turn out to be a three-goal second period.
“The fact we have flower [Fleury] and Matt, I think gives us a comfort level because we know they are both No. 1 goalies,” said Penguins coach Mike Sullivan after the game. “I have said to them all along we are going to need both of you. We’ve used them both all year long.”
Sullivan had no update on Murray’s status after the game, only saying they will have more information on Thursday.
Phil Kessel, once again at his best in the playoffs, was the driving force behind the offense in the second period when he set up Bryan Rust for the Penguins’ first goal, and then scored one of his own just two-and-a-half minutes later on an absolute rocket of a wrist shot from just inside the left faceoff dot that Sergei Bobrovsky seemed to have no chance on.
Nick Bonino added another goal later in the period after pouncing on a loose rebound in front of Bobrovsky.
This was really a tale of different games. After getting outshot 16-3 in the first period, the Penguins were able to completely turn the tables on the Blue Jackets in the second and third periods and finish the game with a 26-18 edge over the second and third periods.