- Penguins score 18 seconds apart
- Fleury ties Barrasso's franchise SO record
- St. Louis takes stick in the mouth
Alex Kovalev and Arron Asham scored third-period goals 18 seconds apart and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 32 shots to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to a 3-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first-round playoff opener on Wednesday night.
Chris Kunitz sealed the win with an empty-net goal in the final minute in the Penguins' first post-season game in their new arena, the Consol Energy Center.
Brooks Orpik, who had two assists, opened the game with a heavy and clean check on Lightning star Steven Stamkos.
Fleury made spectacular saves — including a blind stop on former Penguins forward Ryan Malone in the first period — and shut down the Lightning's high-powered offence. Fleury earned his fifth playoff shutout, one short of tying Tom Barrasso's franchise record.
"Whatever needs to be done," Fleury said. "I just tried to do my thing, and the players up front got some big goals for us and it worked out all right."
The Lightning were held scoreless following a regular season in which they finished second in the Eastern Conference with 247 goals. Fifth-seeded Tampa Bay is in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.
The fourth-seeded Penguins seized the momentum by outshooting the Lightning 18-7 in the second period, and carried it into the third in the first playoff meeting between the teams.
Kovalev made it 1-0 at 6:05 of the third on a bit of a broken play after he was tripped in the corner by Tampa Bay's Pavel Kubina. With the crowd booing the lack of a penalty call, Penguins forward James Neal got the puck at the left point and fed Kovalev, who one-timed a shot shortly after he got back up.
With the arena still buzzing, Asham doubled the lead with an end-to-end rush. Carrying the puck up the right wing, Asham faked a shot before cutting around the net to draw goalie Dwayne Roloson out of position. Asham's first attempt to wrap in the puck failed, but he converted on a second chance by flipping the puck into the open left side.
With much of the focus on the Lightning's offensive stars — Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis — and the Penguins playing without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the goalies stole the spotlight.
Fleury kept the Penguins in the game during the first period, when the Lightning had a 9-2 shot advantage seven minutes in.
"Fleury was outstanding, there's no question about it," Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "I just saw some clips of the replays and I still can't believe he made some of those saves."
He made a right pad save at 2:10 on Malone's attempt to sneak in a shot behind a crowd during a scramble in front. About five minutes later, Fleury made up for misplaying a dump-in by getting his blocker up to foil Nate Thompson's attempt to convert a rebound in front.
Fleury's best save came 11 minutes in. He contorted himself to stop Brett Clark's shot from the point that was deflected in front by Dominic Moore, who was so sure the puck had gone in he had already raised his arms to celebrate. Then, with Fleury's back to the play, the flopping goalie raised his leg to stop Malone attempting to flip the puck in from the left side. That electrified the crowd, which began chanting "Fleury! Fleury!"
"I thought it was behind me, so I just tried to do something that I do in practice once in a while," Fleury said.
He wasn't done.
In the opening minute of the second, Fleury stopped Stamkos' shot from the left point and then reached back to get his blocker arm to deny Lecavalier, who got off a clean shot on a nifty play.
Getting the rebound on his backhand, Lecavalier set himself up by slipping the puck through his legs to his forehand.
Roloson wasn't as busy, but made several key stops, two against Jordan Staal during a Penguins power play early in the second period. Roloson got his right pad out to prevent Staal from attempting to convert a shot that caromed off the end boards.
Seconds later, Roloson got across to get his chest up on Staal's one-timer from the slot.
Penguins defenceman Zbynek Michalek wasn't penalized after he appeared to accidentally crack Martin St. Louis across the face with his stick in the second period. It happened after the players collided in the Lightning zone, and as both were falling to the ice.
St. Louis was livid immediately after it happened, and didn't speak to the media after the game.