Leave it to the start of the NHL postseason to remind hockey fans how easily their blood pressure can reach astronomical levels just from sitting on the couch. To show others that COPS isn’t the only show on television that can get you sweaty while watching. And yeah, because it’s the Cup, that it’s completely fine to swear off into space when your team is losing, and leap through the ceiling when your team scores. It’s the playoffs and, man, oh man, they are back.
For the Penguins, it’s taken only one game to prove that the playoffs just means more of the status quo for them. Game 1 was a microcosm of their regular season: Someone got hurt. They faced adversity. They overcame said adversity. They won at home. It’s a formula that’s working, and who are we to question it?
Now that Game 1 is in the books, it’s time to get ready for Game 2, which is also in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins have been dominant all season. Their 31-6-4 record at home is a lot easier on the eyes than the 19-15-7 mark on the road. That said, the Penguins would love nothing more that to go up 2-0 on the Blue Jackets before the series heads to Columbus for Games 3 and 4. Everybody knows that, so here are 5 other things we know as we head into Game 2.
1. It’s a good thing Fleury wasn’t traded.
Turns out they really would need him! Who knew?
Just like last year, the Pens would need to turn to their backup goaltender to start Game 1 of the first round of the playoffs. This time around, however, it was Marc-Andre Fleury coming to the rescue, making 31 saves after learning he would start a little less than a half hour before puck drop. Fleury came up especially big in the first period, turning away all 16 Columbus shots.
Matt Murray, who won 15 games last postseason after taking the place of an injured Fleury, was going to start but was injured during warmups. Coach Mike Sullivan disclosed that Murray has a lower-body injury. The video of Murray from warm-ups seem to confirm that.
We know Murray is the better goalie. He won a Stanley Cup in his first season. He’s had better statistics since the first day he took the job. He’s going to be the starter again on the first day he’s healthy.
A motivated Fleury focused on proving to himself and everyone else that he can be the goaltender who helps takes this team to a Stanley Cup seems like a good thing. We already know he will get the start again tonight, and if Murray is going to miss significant time, we know the Penguins will miss him, but the alternative is suddenly, again, a pretty good option. Marc-Andre Fleury has Stanley Cup champion on his resume, too, you know. Though Fleury presumably won’t be a Penguin next season, what better way to put the finishing touches on his time in Pittsburgh than a deep run in the playoffs? Who doesn’t love a good redemption story?
2. In defense we trust
If the biggest question for the Penguins entering this series was how their defense would hold up without Kris Letang, the more important question was how the pairing of Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta would perform returning from injury. Relying on two guys to cover the minutes of one may not seem like a tall order on the surface, but the injured player is Kris Letang, after all.
Daley and Maatta missed a combined 45 games this season and only played three upon their collective returns, but the duo appeared to be just fine in Game 1, with both going well over 19 minutes of ice time against the Blue Jackets. Maatta played especially well, earning an assist on the Penguins third tally to go along with two shots on goal and four blocks.
The Penguins defense as a whole did an incredible job limiting Columbus, forcing almost all of their shot attempts to come from the outside:
Needless to say, if the Penguins defense is going to keep this up, the duo of Daley and Maatta could be the pairing that solidifies the group. Or they could be the crack in the foundation that makes the entire wall crumble. We just don’t know.
3. Obvious Columbus is obvious.
The Blue Jackets did a nice job this season transitioning away from their previous identity as a team that was more focused on punching their opponent in the back of the head than actually scoring goals and winning games. But all of that progress is erased whenever they meet up with the Penguins, who continue to own prime real estate inside the heads of the entire Columbus roster.
The smart play for Columbus would be to focus on what got them to the postseason in the first place: Limiting the opportunities of their opponent by possessing the puck more often than not. However, that would imply that anyone involved with this team is smart. Instead, the Blue Jackets went with predictability, employing the old strategy of devoting all their energy to delivering big hits and handing out face washes after almost every whistle.
And after the game was already over.
It’s a bold strategy and one that has never, ever been proven to actually help a team that is struggling offensively to score goals, so we’ll see how this all works out for them. We know it hasn’t gone well so far.
4. Playoff Phil is back.
The regular season version of Phil Kessel is a good player, don’t get me wrong. But Playoff Phil Kessel is on a different level.
Kessel scored a team-high 10 goals during the Penguins’ run to the Stanley Cup last spring. He has 45 points in 47-career playoff games. And despite finishing the regular season with just two goals in his last 26 games, it took less than 24 minutes for Kessel to register one in Game 1. Also, Kessel’s seven shots on goal in Game 1 were more than he had in all but one regular-season game.
Just take a look at this perfectly placed laser beam.
A lot is made of Kessel’s effort and consistency throughout the regular season, but nobody can argue the postseason is his version of a performance-enhancing drug.
5. Seeing Torts get angry will never get old.
John Tortorella is all kinds of insufferable, especially for Penguins fans. He hates the Penguins. He hates Sidney Crosby. His words are infuriating. He’s just the worst. But nothing — absolutely nothing — is better than seeing John Tortorella’s face when his team is losing.
I believe the look above is called, “This Guy Took My Parking Spot.”
Here, we have “The Fifth Stage of Grief: Acceptance.”
But here’s what we know: Nothing can make a referee’s whistle disappear faster than an NHL playoff game, and Tortorella isn’t exactly known for keeping his cool on the bench. Add those two things together with the Penguins holding a 1-0 lead in this series and we have all the makings for a potential explosion of epic proportions on our hands here. That much is certain.
If the Pens jump out to an early lead in Game 2, and Tort’s face begins to turn a shade of red, seek shelter as quickly as possible.