Big Three dazzle on big night
Unlike Coca-Cola, the Penguins' formula for success is no secret, but it is fast becoming a classic.
A jaw-dropping save by goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, a start-them-up tally from center Evgeni Malkin and a goal by center Sidney Crosby from near the blue-painted crease helped the Penguins open defense of their Stanley Cup championship - err, make that open the new chase for that Cup - with a 3-2 victory Friday night against the New York Rangers at Mellon Arena.
"That's a recipe for a successful game," head coach Dan Bylsma said, also calling attention to a depth goal from third-line winger Tyler Kennedy and the Penguins' special teams - 1 for 2 on the power play and 4 for 4 on the penalty kill.
The Penguins followed this recipe last spring during a run to the Stanley Cup.
Bylsma had urged his players to forget about that particular past, but it was impossible to ignore last night. A pregame ceremony months in the making wowed a sellout crowd that caught a glimpse of the Cup and watched a third championship banner raised to the stainless steel room at Mellon Arena, which played host to its final regular-season home opener.
Not long after the celebration ceremony, these Penguins - who last night dressed 16 players from the squad that won Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at Detroit on June 12 - went about reminding the NHL that their best player are supreme in big moments.
Malkin put the Penguins ahead, 1-0, at 7:48 of the opening period with a deflection-tally off a hard slap shot from defenseman Sergei Gonchar on a power play. The Penguins didn't hold their lead long, though, as the Rangers pulled even on center Chris Drury's goal at 16:01.
The score remained tied, 1-1, early in the second period when Fleury lunged to his left and denied Rangers forward Vinny Prospal of a go-ahead tally. Prospal was positioned perfectly to finish a 2-on-1, but Fleury's glove moved quicker than Prospal could shoot after receiving a deft pass from Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky.
"(Dubinsky) had some room to shoot ... and I was kind of waiting for it, and he passed it across, so I just tried to get there as quick as possible," Fleury said. "It hit my glove, and I was kind of happy about that.
"It's just a good feeling to be able to start the season by making a save to keep the score tight."
Fleury's save wasn't quite as important - though it was no less athletic - as his last-second lunge to deny Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom a tying-goal in Game 7 of the Final, but it did bide time for Crosby to find his new favorite spot on the ice and give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
After a 3-on-1 break by the Penguins broke down, defenseman Kris Letang retrieved a loose puck behind the Rangers' net and pushed a pass toward the front of the crease, where Crosby whipped it past New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist at 12:25.
All but two of Crosby's playoff-leading 15 goals were scored from near the crease last postseason. As was the case during the playoffs, Crosby appeared unmarked as the puck seemingly found him.
"I was in between going for his stick and going for the puck," Drury said. "He beat me to it."
Added Crosby: "It was not that difficult. I just stopped in front of the net. There's always going to be traffic there, you've just got to keep your stick on the ice, and sometimes those pucks come to you."
Opening-night winning goals have come to Kennedy, who also tallied in overtime for the Penguins last season in Stockholm against the Ottawa Senators to start the campaign.
Last night, he deflected a shot from defenseman Alex Goligoski, who recorded two assists in the game, past Lundqvist at 13:33 of the second period to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead.
"He deflected it to the far post," Lundqvist said. "There was nothing I really could have done differently."
Rangers winger Marian Gaborik scored in the third period, rendering Kennedy's goal the winner.
"I'm just excited to get one after not scoring in the preseason," Kennedy said. "I can move on now."
So can the Penguins, whose focus is on a Cup win - just not the one from last June.