The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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May 1, 2013

Penguins blank Islanders in playoff opener

PITTSBURGH — Pascal Dupuis scored twice, Marc-Andre Fleury made 26 saves, and the top-seeded Pittsburgh Penguins opened the playoffs with a 5-0 romp over the New York Islanders on Wednesday night.

Beau Bennett, Kris Letang and Tanner Glass also scored for the Penguins, who had no trouble against the upstart Islanders even with star Sidney Crosby sidelined by a broken jaw. Pittsburgh hardly needed its captain to continue its mastery of the Islanders, who made their first playoff appearance since 2007.

Fleury earned his sixth career playoff shutout.

The Penguins, the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, beat Evgeni Nabokov four times in the game’s first 22 minutes, including goals by Letang and Dupuis 32 seconds apart early in the second period to send Nabokov to the bench after he stopped just 11 shots.

Kevin Poulin came on in relief and surrendered a soft goal to Glass.

Game 2 is Friday in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins hoped to have Crosby back for the first time since he was struck in the face by a puck on March 30 in a game against the Islanders. Doctors, however, declined to clear the NHL’s third-leading scorer, feeling his jaw wasn’t healed enough for contact.

Considering the way his teammates picked up the slack on the first night of what the Penguins hope is a two-month march to the Stanley Cup, there is no need to rush Crosby back.

Pittsburgh rolled to the top of the East even though Crosby missed the final quarter of the season. The Penguins were bolstered by the arrival of trade deadline acquisitions Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen and Doug Murray.

All four players are searching for their first Cup title, and all four made an immediate impact in the series opener. Iginla and Jokinen both had two assists, and Morrow and Murray helped bottle up New York’s quickly improving offense.

Islanders star John Tavares failed to find much room to maneuver and didn’t muster a shot on goal all night. Those who did get pucks in on Fleury didn’t fare any better.

The Penguins were eliminated last spring by rival Philadelphia in six chaotic games.

Pittsburgh was one of the NHL’s best defensive teams toward the end of the season and kept it going on Wednesday, keeping the Islanders under wraps even after taking a big lead.

New York coach Jack Capuano insisted his roster – featuring 16 players making their postseason debuts – was ready based on the fact the Islanders had been fighting for a playoff spot for the better part of two months.

The rookie Bennett earned a start over veteran forward Tyler Kennedy due in part to his quick maturation during the season. Playing on one of the NHL’s deepest rosters, the 21-year-old has shown a deft touch around the net and a penchant for avoiding mistakes.

He paid off coach Dan Bylsma’s vote of confidence, needing only 25 seconds of ice time to score his first playoff goal.

The Islanders had nearly killed Brian Strait’s penalty when a clearing attempt hit linesman Greg Devorski at center ice and stopped. Evgeni Malkin brought the puck into the zone and lost control, but Bennett chased it down and raced in on the right side before flipping a shot over Nabokov’s shoulder from in close to give the Penguins the lead 3:30 in.

Dupuis made it 2-0 about 10 minutes later following a mad scramble in front. Craig Adams bullrushed Nabokov at the left post, setting off a chaotic sequence that ended with Dupuis smacking the puck out of the air from 10 feet out. It sailed by a badly out of position Nabokov and into the net.

The situation quickly got worse for New York after the first intermission. The 37-year-old goalie – making his 81st playoff start – had no chance on Letang’s wrist shot from the left circle 1:19 into the second period. Dupuis followed by pouncing on a rebound off Mark Eaton’s shot from the point to push Pittsburgh’s edge to 4-0 and send Nabokov slowly skating to his bench in favor of Poulin.

Nabokov was struck by a shot directly in his mask and was briefly stunned before Bennett opened the scoring moments later.

NOTES: Bennett is the first Pittsburgh rookie to score the team’s opening goal of the playoffs since Jordan Staal did it in 2007. ... Jokinen left with 2:20 to play after taking a hit to the knee from New York’s Marty Reasoner. ... The Islanders went 0-for-4 on the power play. ... Pittsburgh D Brooks Orpik was scratched due to a lower body injury. ... New York’s loss was its second in regulation since March 30.

 

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