And that is what Marc Andre Fleury looked like in last night’s playoff opener. It was possibly the best performance I have ever seen out of a goalie since I can remember, he was that good. Didn’t matter who was shooting from where, the Flower was making kick saves, glove saves, blocker saves, pad saves. I mean, it was just unbelievable to see. Obliviously the Pens won, 3-0, as Fleury earned his fifth career playoff shutout.
This was a really important game, more so that a normal Game 1 of the first rounds of the playoffs. With no Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin in the lineup, it was vital that the Pens were able to establish their game early and often against the high powered Lightning offense. Pittsburgh came out hitting, with Steven Stamkos, Ryan Malone and Vincent Levacalier getting the worst of it, especially Stamkos, who got absolutely destroyed by Brooks Orpik. The best part about watching that hit was the fact that everyone saw it coming. Everyone except Stamkos that is.
As solid as any goaltender is, a team still needs to score goals. Even though the Pens were peppering the Tampa Bay goalie Dwayne Roloson with nearly 30 shots through two periods, they still weren’t able to put one in the back of the net. Then, about six minutes into the third period, Alexei Kovalev (pictured above from a game last week) changed all that. After he appeared to be tripped (with no penalty), he layed on the ice for just a second. When the defenseman drifted away, Kovy jumped up, took a shot-pass from James Neal, and buried it in the back of the net.
Just 18 seconds later, Pens fourth liner Arron Asham (above, from last night’s game) streaked down the right side of the ice, faked a shot to draw Roloson away from the net, wrapped around the net and tried to bury one. It bounced off a stick, came right back to him, and he buried it in the open net. We were still going crazy from the Kovy goal, that half the arena didn’t even realize we’d scored again. Asham is one of those roll players I talked about yesterday who, if the Pens are going to win the Cup, needs to step up, and he did just that. Chris Kunitz added an empty netter to seal the game.
Overall the Pens looked great. Hard hitting, great penalty killing, beating the trap that the Lightning play is what led to the Game 1 victory. The important thing is sticking to their game for the rest of the playoffs.
Game 2 is tomorrow. And it can’t come soon enough.