Fleury, Kessel lift Penguins over Blue Jackets in Game 1

13 Comments

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.

Matt Murray scratched for Game 1, Fleury gets the start

7 Comments

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins are getting Evgeni Malkin back for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night, but will not have their starting goalie.

After being deemed “good to go” by head coach Mike Sullivan earlier in the day, Matt Murray was a late scratch for the game after leaving the ice with more than seven minutes to go in warmups.

That means Marc-Andre Fleury draws back into the starting lineup to begin the Penguins’ title defense.

Rookie Tristan Jarry, who started the regular season finale for the Penguins against the New York Rangers, will serve as the backup.

It’s kind of deja vu for the Penguins because the playoffs opened nearly the exact same way for them a year ago with Murray and Fleury both being injured, with Jeff Zatkoff being forced to make the Game 1 start.

Murray initially seemed to be shaken up in his last start against the New Jersey Devils when he stopped Taylor Hall on a breakaway. He remained in the game and everything since then seemed to indicate he would be ready for Wednesday.

Update: Sullivan said during the first period that Murray is dealing with a lower body injury that happened during warmups.

Goalie nods: Marc-Andre Fleury will try to keep Maple Leafs from clinching

Getty

There is only one playoff spot still up for grabs in the NHL, and the Toronto Maple Leafs can take care of that on Saturday night if they can beat the Pittsburgh Penguins.

They will have to go through Marc-Andre Fleury to do it.

With Matt Murray getting some rest before the start of the postseason, Fleury will get the call for the Penguins on Saturday night in what could be one of his last starts in a Penguins uniform, depending on what happens over the summer with the expansion draft situation.

When we last saw Fleury in the Penguins’ net he allowed five goals in an ugly loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, but before that had played some of his best hockey of the season. Since the beginning of March (just after the NHL trade deadline when that distraction was removed from the equation) Fleury has a .931 save percentage for the Penguins.

The Maple Leafs will go with Frederik Andersen in net as he tries to get them into the playoffs for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

Elsewhere on Saturday…

— In the afternoon games it was Henrik Lundqvist vs. Craig Anderson in the New York Rangers-Ottawa Senators game, Sergei Bobrovsky vs. Steve Mason in the Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Philadelphia Flyers game, and Philip Grubauer vs. Anton Khudobin in the Washingtno Capitals vs. Boston Bruins game.

Corey Crawford gets the start for the Chicago Blackhawks when they visit the Los Angeles Kings, who will counter with Jonathan Quick.

Jaroslav Halak starts the must-win game for the New York Islanders against the New Jersey Devils. The Devils will go with Keith Kinkaid.

— It will be Carter Hutton vs. Cam Ward when the St. Louis Blues visit the Carolina Hurricanes.

Robin Lehner and James Reimer get the start for the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers respectively.

Charlie Lindgren will make his second start for the Montreal Canadiens when they visit the Detroit Red Wings. Petr Mrazek is in for the Red Wings.

— The Nashville Predators will start Pekka Rinne in Winnipeg against Conor Hellebuyck and the Jets.

— The Colorado Avalanche will send Jeremy Smith out against the Dallas Stars. The Stars will go with Kari Lehtonen.

Devan Dubnyk gets the night off as the Minnesota Wild will start Darcy Kuemper against Mike Smith and the Arizona Coyotes.

Cam Talbot makes his league leading 73rd appearance for the Edmonton Oilers when they visit the Vancouver Canucks. Ryan Miller starts for the Canucks.

Brian Elliott will start for the Calgary Flames when they visit the San Jose Sharks. Aaron Dell gets the call for the Sharks.

Video: Fleury’s falling save; Panik dekes Malkin for tremendous goal

1 Comment

Whether by choice or a lack of offers, Marc-Andre Fleury is still with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He celebrated that fact with one of the stranger (and more impressive) sequences you’ll see during Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Fleury made consecutive stops, totaling robbing Brent Seabrook on a rebound with the sort of collapsing stop you seldom see.

That save kept the Blackhawks lead at just 1-0 (Patrick Kane‘s goal is worth watching, by the way), opening the door for an outstanding backhand goal by Scott Wilson.

Here’s the MAF GIF:

Richard Panik made a tremendous play to put the Blackhawks back up 2-1 to end the period, however:

Wow. Here’s Panik getting around Evgeni Malkin in jaw-dropping fashion:

If the second period’s brilliant play carries over to the third, it could be quite the finish. The game’s on NBCSN and you can stream it here.

Penguins’ Rutherford would prefer to keep Fleury this season

Getty
5 Comments

For the better part of the past year it has always been a matter of when, and not if, the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to part ways with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.

Matt Murray has taken over as the starter, and given his age, salary, and the fact he has simply outplayed Fleury since the end of the 2015-16 season he is going to continue to be the starter for the long-term.

But through months of speculation and rumors Fleury has remained with the Penguins. With the NHL trade deadline less than a week away, general manager Jim Rutherford addressed the situation on Thursday and said that it continues to be his preference to keep Fleury with the team through the rest of the season.

“I’m going to say what I’ve said all along. I’d prefer to keep him,” Rutherford said, via NHL.com “We play a lot of games in March. You don’t know when players are going to get hurt. He’s handled the situation very well. I’m going to have some communication with him in between now and the [deadline] and see exactly where he sits and how he feels. That will play a part in the final decision. But I’m not going to get too far ahead of myself because he very well could be a part of our team going down the stretch.”

That all very well could be true.

Fleury is a great safety net to have on the roster in case something happens to Murray (Murray has been injured on more than one occasion in the early part of his career), but he still carries a significant salary cap hit and the Penguins, pressed right up against the cap, would probably still like to make another addition or two before the deadline.

Even though it is almost certainly not on the Penguins’ radar at the moment, there is also the expansion draft issue over the summer.

Trading him sooner, rather than later, would clear out a lot of potential headaches and give them some short-term flexibility when it comes to adding to a team that is already a Stanley Cup contender.

But even if the Penguins would want to go in that direction right now the biggest obstacle in actually completing a trade before the deadline is just how soft the market is for starting goaltenders. Looking at the teams that are in a position to be buyers there are really only one or two that would be in the market for a starting goalie — Calgary, and maybe St. Louis. Pretty much every other playoff team — or potential playoff team — is set in net.

It takes two teams to make a trade, and right now there might not be another out there that makes sense as a partner.