The Columbus Blue Jackets’ return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a three-year absence got off to a rough start.
Despite peppering reserve goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with 32 shots, 16 of which came in the first period alone, the Blue Jackets suffered a 3-1 loss to the reigning Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh Wednesday night.
The Blue Jackets outshot the Penguins, 16-3, in the first 20 minutes of play, but Pittsburgh responded well in the second period and put three pucks into the back of the net of Sergei Bobrovsky, a likely candidate for the Vezina Trophy.
With solid pursuit up the ice, the Penguins got on the scoreboard at the 1:15 mark of the second period.
After center Evgeni Malkin controlled the puck at the blue line along the near boards, he sent a pass across the ice to right winger Phil Kessel. Quickly, Kessel slipped a pass to fellow right winger Bryan Rust into the slot between the faceoff circles, and the second-year forward rifled a wrist shot past Bobrovsky on the stick side.
Two-and-a-half minutes later, Kessel netted a power-play goal, which gave the Penguins a 2-0 advantage over the Blue Jackets.
With left winger Matt Calvert in the penalty box for tripping, the Penguins went to work in the offensive zone and controlled the puck inside the blue line. Malkin took a pass from defenseman Justin Schultz and reversed the puck over to Kessel on the left side of the ice.
From the faceoff dot, Kessel roofed a wrist shot above Bobrovsky’s left shoulder and into the net for the second goal of the game.
Later in the second period, after an icing penalty was waved off, Penguins center Nick Bonino raced down the rink and took control of the puck in the far corner. Defenseman Olli Maatta put on shot on goal, and when Bobrovsky could not control the rebound, Bonino jabbed at the puck and slipped it into the back of the net.
The Blue Jackets netted their only goal of the game on a Pittsburgh turnover in its own zone.
With Fleury trying to control the puck behind the goal, Calvert applied pressure and helped force the turnover. Forward Josh Anderson tipped the puck back to Calvert, and he put it beyond the reach of Fleury on the glove side and into the upper right corner of the net.
Fleury turned away all but one of the Blue Jackets’ shots despite having next to no notice of his Game 1 start. The backstop for Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup Championship run in 2009 and backup last summer, Fleury was inserted into the starting lineup when Matt Murray suffered an undisclosed injury in warm-ups.
Murray was facing shots from teammates when he slid to the right of the goal crease to make a save and remained down on the ice before skating off to the dressing room.
Bobrovsky stopped 26 of Pittsburgh’s 29 shots in a losing effort.
The best-of-seven series between the Metropolitan Division rivals resumes on Friday night in Pittsburgh.
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