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Penguins take page from 2009, ’16 Cup teams to down Blue Jackets | TribLIVE.com
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Penguins take page from 2009, ’16 Cup teams to down Blue Jackets

Jonathan Bombulie

As they opened the playoffs Wednesday night, the Penguins hearkened back to their two most recent Stanley Cup championships.

Marc-Andre Fleury, the hero of the 2009 run, was the surprise starter in goal.

Bryan Rust, Phil Kessel and Nick Bonino, clutch performers throughout so much of the 2016 title march, provided the offensive support he needed.

The result was a convincing 3-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference quarterfinals series at PPG Paints Arena.

Game 2 is set for Friday night.

“At the end, it was a great feeling,” Fleury said. “It was a fun game to win.”

Fans stream into the building before the Penguins and Blue Jackets Game 1 matchup in the first round of Stanley Cup playoff action Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at PPG Arena. For more images from Game 1, visit the Trib’s photo gallery.

Photo by Chaz Palla

 

Just like last season, when Fleury and Matt Murray were out with concussions and Jeff Zatkoff started the first two games of a series with the Rangers, the Penguins began the playoffs with some goaltender drama.

Murray left the ice about halfway through warm-ups with a lower-body injury. It came less than a week after he favored his right leg while making a breakaway save on New Jersey’s Taylor Hall in the third period of his final start of the regular season.

Coach Mike Sullivan said he would have more information about Murray’s condition Thursday.

Fleury said he found out he would be making the 101st postseason appearance of his career on his way off the ice at the end of warm-ups. Goaltending coach Mike Bales delivered the news.

Fleury’s pre-game routine was thrown completely out of whack, of course, but he did his finest work in the first period. The Blue Jackets had the Penguins on their heels, jumping out to a 16-3 shots advantage, but Fleury kept the game scoreless.

Most notably, he aggressively challenged a Zach Werenski shot from the top of the right circle after a cross-ice pass from Scott Hartnell about eight minutes in.

“What can you say about his character and compete level, just to step in and be as good as he was, especially in that first period?” Sullivan said. “We needed him because they controlled the game.”

If Fleury acted like he had been in that situation before, it’s because he had. As a third-year pro in November of 2005, he was thrust into action when starter Jocelyn Thibault took a Konstantin Koltsov shot to the neck in warm-ups before a game in Philadelphia. Fleury responded with a 45-save performance in a 3-2 overtime win.

“He’s one of the most professional guys we know,” Bonino said. “He didn’t even blink. He went in there and made 30 saves for us and was the first star of the game. He was awesome.”

After Fleury kept the Blue Jackets at bay, Rust, Kessel and Bonino — some of the biggest goal-scoring stars of last season’s playoff run — snatched momentum in a dramatic way.

It started with a Rust goal from the slot 75 seconds into the second period after nifty passes off the stick of Evgeni Malkin and skate of Kessel.

“There were swings all over the game,” Rust said. “They had pressure in a lot of the first, then we had pressure in the second. It was kind of back and forth. To be able to get that first one gained a lot of momentum for us.”

It continued with a picture-perfect Kessel laser beam from the left faceoff circle on the power play less than three minutes later.

Sullivan had been encouraging Kessel to shoot more while he was scoring only two goals in his final 26 games of the regular season. This type of shot is what the coach had in mind.

“He has one of the best wrist shots in the game,” Sullivan said. “When he shoots like that, he’s accurate. He’s got a deceptive release. He’s got a quick release, and the velocity on it, he’s got as hard a wrist shot as there is in the league.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.


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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Bryan Rust beats Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in the second period during game one in first round Stanley Cup action Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Evgeni Malkin tries to put a faceoff between the legs of the Blue Jackets' William Karlsson in the first period during Game 1 Wednesday, April 12, 2017.
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Blue Jackets' Scott Harrington checks the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin in the first period during game one in the first round of Stanley Cup action Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Justin Schultz and Patric Hornqvist celebrate with Phil Kessel after Kessel's goal against the Blue Jackets in the second period Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Jake Guentzel takes out the Blue Jackets' Oliver Bjorkstrand in the second period during game one in first round Stanley Cup action Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Evan Haines, 22, of Bridgeville fixes his jersey while watching the Penguins game outside of PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday, April 12 2017.
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Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Evan Haines of Bridgeville reacts while watching the big screen before the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Game 1 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 12, 2017 at PPG Paints Arena.
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Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Ron Hainsey defends on the Blue Jackets' Alexander Wennberg in the second period during game one in first round Stanley Cup action Wednesday, April 12, 2017 at
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Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Penguins' fans celebrate after a goal during the Penguins' first game of the Stanley Cup Playoff at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday, April 12 2017.
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