Marc-Andre Fleury shuts out Tampa Bay’s offense to give Pittsburgh 1-0 series lead

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With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin out during the 2010-11 regular season, Marc-Andre Fleury ended up earning the Pittsburgh Penguins’ team MVP award. If the plucky Penguins want to go anywhere in this year’s playoffs, they will need world-class goaltending from the man they call “Flower.”

If his 32-save shutout in Game 1 against the Tampa Bay Lightning is any indication, that goal will be quite attainable. Fleury turned aside all of the pucks the Bolts’ impressive offense sent his way to power Pittsburgh to a 3-0 win and 1-0 series lead.

Pittsburgh 3, Tampa Bay 0; Penguins lead 1-0

The first two periods went without a single score despite 28 shots from Pittsburgh (including 18 in the second) and 21 from Tampa Bay. Alexei Kovalev scored his first playoff goal for the Penguins since 2001 in the third period, finishing a chance set up by James Neal after the Lightning seemingly got away with a tripping penalty.

Penguins fans barely had a chance to catch their breath as Arron Asham made it 2-0 just 18 seconds later after lobotomizing Bolts goalie Dwayne Roloson with a wrap-around move. Chris Kunitz eventually sealed it up at 3-0 with an empty-net goal.

Fleury stole the spotlight with some highlight reel saves and that 32-save shutout, but Roloson kept Tampa Bay in the game. The aging veteran stopped 37 out of 39 Penguins shots, yet it wasn’t enough to help the Lightning in their first playoff contest since 2007.

No doubt about it, Tampa Bay needs more from its best players. Both Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis had -2 ratings, while Steven Stamkos only managed one shot on goal.

The natural question is: how will the mostly-unproven Lightning react to this loss? Conversely, one also must ask if the Penguins can win with such a small margin of error as the postseason goes along. Pittsburgh went 0-for-6 on the power play, while Tampa Bay couldn’t cash in on their only power play opportunity.

In the grand scheme of things, Game 1 went Pittsburgh’s way. It was a grinding, defensive contest with great defense yet with plenty of shots on goal. Can Fleury keep this up and will the Penguins keep the Bolts’ PP off the ice enough to win three more games? We’ll have to wait and see, but so far, so good.