Three minutes into Wednesday’s Stanley Cup playoff opener between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders, the Pens’ Jarome Iginla rifled a one-timer that drilled the top of goalie Evgeni Nabokov’s mask, stunning the Isles veteran.
If you’re searching for a metaphor for the true nature of Pittsburgh’s 5-0 domination of New York at Consol Energy Center, look no further.
After Iginla’s power-play blast deflected out of play, Nabokov knelt to the ice to re-gather his bearings. Tough to tell if the incident adversely affected the Islanders netminder, but the entire New York team acted like they took a 90-mph shot to the head for most of the night.
Prior to Game 1, it felt a little too easy to compare this series to the 2007 Ottawa-Pittsburgh first-round matchup, in which the tenured Senators taught the young Penguins a few hard lessons about playoff intensity and speed. After Wednesday night, it feels spot-on. Much like the Ottawa’s 6-3 opening statement six years ago, Pittsburgh put its inexperienced opponent on its heels right from the start.
Kind of ironic that 21-year-old rookie Beau Bennett started the scoring for the Penguins on Wednesday, buzzing Nabokov’s tower moments after Iginla did the same thing. Bennett didn’t even know he was playing until just a couple hours prior to faceoff, when he officially took Tyler Kennedy’s place on the fourth line. Coach Dan Bylsma seemed pleased with his lineup decision in the post-game press conference, raving about Bennett’s all-around play in addition to the opening goal.
But while a child led them on the scoresheet, it was more about the fully-grown NHL adults in Game 1 for the Penguins. Pascal Dupuis continued his mid-career surge with two goals from right in front of the net. Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Matt Cooke physically harassed the Islanders’ skill players relentlessly. Marc-Andre Fleury recorded a 26-save shutout, highlighted a key early stop on Casey Cizikas that kept Pittsburgh ahead 1-0. Kris Letang turned in an all-encompassing effort, including a top-shelf wrister that raised the lead to 3-0.
It wasn’t all positive for the Penguins, as James Neal and Jussi Jokinen suffered lower-body injuries of unknown severity. As expected, Bylsma wouldn’t share any information on those two after the game. With Sidney Crosby’s return from a broken jaw still uncertain, losing Neal, Jokinen or both for even a few days would significantly undercut the Pens’ scoring depth.
From the Islanders standpoint, they had to be pleased with the way they competed in the third period, when they held the Penguins off the scoreboard and seemed to get their legs under them. Those 20 minutes of consequence-free action can only benefit a New York team that clearly wasn’t ready for the playoff spotlight from the drop of the puck.
The Isles will be better and the Pens may be missing a couple pieces in Friday’s Game 2. However, after a 60-minute sample size, it’s still a reach to say this series will last beyond a fifth game.