Sidney Crosby's hat trick powers Penguins to Game 1 rout of Flyers
Call it a premonition. Call it learning from experience. Whatever it is, when Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz sees an airborne puck ricocheting around the net with Sidney Crosby anywhere near it, he knows what's going to happen next.
"He'll bat it out of the air and into the net," Schultz said. "Whenever the puck is near him, you know he's going to do something special."
Crosby did something special Wednesday night, all right. So did his teammates.
Crosby recorded his third career playoff hat trick, including another amazing feat of hand-eye coordination on a second-period goal, leading the Penguins to a decisive 7-0 win over the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of a first-round series at PPG Paints Arena.
The final score indicates the quantity of offensive highlights the Penguins provided.
In addition to Crosby's hat trick, which tied Mario Lemieux's franchise record for career three-goal games in the playoffs, Jake Guentzel had a goal and three assists. Evgeni Malkin, Bryan Rust and Carl Hagelin also scored. It was the Penguins' most lopsided playoff opener since they beat Washington by the same 7-0 score in a first-round series in 2000.
"We executed," Crosby said. "We capitalized on our chances."
The quality of their highlights, however, was probably what was really demoralizing to their cross-state rivals.
The Penguins, to put it mildly, put on a show.
Crosby's eye-popping goal came about nine minutes into the second period.
A partially blocked Brian Dumoulin shot from the left point fluttered toward Crosby, who was jockeying for position with Flyers center Valtteri Filppula in the left faceoff circle. Crosby used a waist-high backhand swing to bat the puck in off the shoulder of goalie Brian Elliott.
It was the third goal out of midair in the past three weeks for Crosby, who would take credit only for being in the right place at the right time.
"They don't always go in, so it's great to see them go in," Crosby said. "You've got to go to the net this time of year. That's usually where pucks are."
Crosby completed his hat trick with a pair of goals about three minutes apart in the third period.
Malkin's entry onto the highlight reel, meanwhile, came about 14 minutes into the game.
He came out of the penalty box after serving a hooking minor, retreated into his own zone and picked up a blocked Shayne Gostisbehere shot inside the right point.
Malkin zoomed through the flat-footed Flyers, getting enough of a step on Gostisbehere to get off a hard backhand shot that nestled into the net behind Elliott's blocker to make it 3-0.
"They're two highlight-type goals from elite players," coach Mike Sullivan said. "There aren't too many guys that can make those types of plays. These guys sometimes we marvel at what they do out there with their talent level and their instincts. I think those two goals are just an indication of how talented they are.
"They're exciting to watch. They're certainly inspirational-type goals for our team. That's what these guys bring."
Not wanting to be left out, goalie Matt Murray provided a memorable highlight, too. About eight minutes into the first period, he made a diving glove save on Scott Laughton, who was alone on the doorstep, to preserve a 1-0 lead for his team.
Murray made 24 saves to record his third consecutive postseason shutout dating to the final two games of last season's Stanley Cup Final.
Between Murray's flawless effort and Crosby and Malkin's highlights, the biggest challenge for the Penguins heading into Game 2 on Friday night might be avoiding overconfidence.
"It's one game," Crosby said. "Whether it's 7-0 or 1-0 in double overtime, it's one game. A big part of the playoffs is to get better every game and adjust and that's the way we have to look at it."
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BombulieTrib.