Two Penguins entered tonight’s contest having never played in an NHL playoff game. One of them scored on his first shift.
Beau Bennett scored the first postseason goal of his career just 3:30 into period one. Evgeni Malkin dished the puck off the right half-wall to Bennett who cruised around Andrew Macdonald and roofed a shot short-side on Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov. The tally came in the dying seconds of former Penguin Brian Strait’s minor penalty for interference.
“That’s something I work on quite a bit. I did it a couple of times in Wilkes-Barre and luckily it went in the spot I wanted it to,” Bennett said of the goal. “It was good to get the team going right off the get-go and it got the confidence up a little bit. That is big going forward.”
With the goal, Bennett joined Sidney Crosby, Jordan Staal and Pierre Larouche as the only Penguins to score in their playoff debuts.
“Beau was probably our next best powerplay guy over the last ten games other than the first unit. He’s played very well without the puck and in defenseive situations,” Dan Bylsma said of his decision to play Bennett over Tyler Kennedy. “The skill he adds to our lineup was not only evident in the great goal, but evident during five-on-five.”
Casey Cizikas nearly equalized for the Islanders moments later when he found his own rebound alone in front. Marc-Andre Fleury stood tall, however, turning away the shot along with seven others in the first frame as Pascal Dupuis added a late goal to push Pittsburgh’s lead to 2-0.
“The second goal is an example of where we want to play –– smashmouth, up-the-middle and leave a dent in the offensive zone,” Bylsma emphasized. “We did a great job around the net — especially in the first period. We had a shooters mentality and people areound the net and it paid off.”
It took less than two minutes for the Penguins to dash any second period hopes the Islanders had.
Marty Reasner was whistled for tripping 54 seconds into the frame to give Pittsburgh a two-man-advantage. Kris Letang capitalized, taking an Iginla feed from the right side and slotting a shot above Nabokov’s shoulder for his first of the playoffs.
“It was five-on-three, so you don’t have much pressure, but it’s fun to get the puck as close as that. You just wait until you get an open lane,” Letang said of the play. “I was looking to pass first because we made a quick play down low, and after that I looked off the goalie and shot it.”
Dupuis piled-on 32 seconds later.
The Penguins winger corralled a Mark Eaton shot in front of the Islanders netminder and out-waited Nabokov before sliding to his right and lifting the puck into a yawning cage. Dupuis second of the game swelled the Penguins lead to 4-0 and chased Nabokov from the crease.
For Eaton, his helper was well deserved. The defensive force led all players with five blocked shots through two periods and teamed with Letang as the Pens top shutdown unit.
Pittsburgh’s run of fortune ended on a mid-period powerplay when James Neal was slow to get off the ice after absorbing a body check. The winger did not return to action, but Tanner Glass filled his sniper role when he potted his second goal of the year to close the second period.
While niether team found the back of the net in the third period, a low hit on Jussi Jokinen provided some anxiety. Reasoner was assessed a five minute major and a game misconduct as the Penguins sealed a 5-0 victory. With the shutout, Fleury tied Tom Barrasso for most playoff shutouts in franchise history.
“I got the butterflys out after a few shots,” Fleury said. “I thought we played within our system. The guys battled hard and had some good hits.”
The two teams will faceoff again Friday night at CONSOL Energy Center for game two of the best-of-seven series.