|PIT Leads Series 1 - 0|
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins sent the message they wanted in the first game of their 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs run on Wednesday.
The New York Islanders did not.
Unquestionably the most-talented team in the Eastern Conference field, the Penguins face huge postseason expectations after loading up at the NHL Trade Deadline with the importation of Brenden Morrow, Jarome Iginla, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen.
The Penguins suggested they are ready to meet those expectations after a 5-0 dismantling of the Islanders at Consol Energy Center, spoiling New York's first postseason game in six years.
"It's always nice when you bring your best game," said Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who had a 26-save shutout. "It was fun; a fun night tonight."
It was a far different showing than the previous spring when the Penguins blew a three-goal lead against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals and lost in overtime, setting in motion a nightmarish series that saw Pittsburgh's Cup dreams die in six games.
Sadly, the Islanders could not answer the playoff questions they face as resoundingly. Making their first playoff appearance since a first-round loss to the Buffalo Sabres in 2007, the Islanders did little to illustrate that they are ready for prime time in the NHL.
"For most of the game we made it pretty easy on them and if you do that, they're just going to run up the score on you," said Islanders forward Matt Martin. "They have way too much talent on that roster to play shinny hockey.
"The bottom line is we knew what to expect from this team. We know they're a good hockey team and we just didn't come out and do a good enough job."
The Penguins received a pair of goals from Pascal Dupuis and another from defenseman Kris Letang, as well as unexpected tallies from Beau Bennett and Tanner Glass, who each scored their first playoff goal.
Fleury, one of the main goats in the first-round loss to the Flyers this past spring, was strong for his sixth playoff shutout, which is tied for the franchise best, previously established by Tom Barrasso.
"It was a good game for us, yeah," said Iginla, making his first postseason appearance since 2009, when he was with the Calgary Flames. "You want to come out with that intensity and yet still be under control and I thought we did that did early and we did that pretty much for the whole game.
"It was a good game for us but still we know it's only one game."
The Penguins did all of this without the presence of two key players: Sidney Crosby and Brooks Orpik. Crosby was ruled out from Game 1 Wednesday morning as he recovers from a broken jaw suffered March 30. There is no definitive timetable for his return, although there is a belief he is close. Orpik, meanwhile, is out with a lower-body injury suffered in the last week of the regular season. He just started skating with the team at the morning skate on Wednesday.
For the Islanders, little went right in their return to the playoffs.
They gave up a power-play goal at the 3:30 mark of the first period, but it wasn't to any of Pittsburgh's big guns. Instead, it was to Bennett, who was only playing because of the injury to Crosby. Bennett, on his first postseason shift, picked the corner over Nabokov's shoulder.
Almost 10 minutes later, Nabokov was over-aggressive on a shot by Iginla and found himself out of position, which allowed Dupuis to bang home the rebound.
It was not the first period the Islanders wanted for Nabokov, who never seemed right after taking an Iginla slapper to face mask in the game's opening minutes, although Islander coach Jack Capuano said that his goaltender is not hurt and he was pulled to try to spark the team.
It got worse in the second as Nabokov allowed two goals – one by Letang and another by Dupuis -- in a 32-second stretch during the period's first two minutes before he was removed from the game with 11 saves on 15 shots.
But, it was not just goaltending that betrayed the Islanders.
John Tavares, their unquestioned star, was held in check all night by a suffocating and physical defense. He did not manage a shot for the first time this season.
"That's going to be key in this series; that line, they're explosive," said Morrow, who delivered a couple of huge hits to Tavares. "If you give them just a little bit of room out there they'll make you pay, any one of those guys, so that's going to be a key line for us to defend against and we did a good job tonight, but we're going to have to be even better."
Tavares, who had 28 goals in 48 regular-season games this season, is already looking forward to a chance at redemption on Friday in Game 2.
"We're going to need to (forget it quickly)," Tavares said. "These series are long, but they can be real quick, too."
Perhaps the only downer for the Penguins on an otherwise resounding evening was two potential injuries. James Neal, Pittsburgh's high-scoring forward, appeared to be injured in the second minute of the second period after a hit by Travis Hamonic and, after one additional shift, did not return to the game.
Jokinen, meanwhile, was injured in the waning minutes when he was clipped by Isles center Marty Reasoner, who was handed a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct for kneeing for the incident with 2:10 remaining in the game.
No update on either player was forthcoming from the Penguins.
"I don't have [an update], and I'm not going to give you one," coach Dan Bylsma said when asked about the status of the two players.
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