By Kevin Allen
April 11, 2018
Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby celebrate Crosby's second goal of the game. (Photo: Charles LeClaire, USA TODAY Sports)
PITTSBURGH — On a night when you can’t decide whether Sidney Crosby’s goal or Evgeni Malkin’s tally was more spectacular, you aren’t going to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins.
On a night when Crosby records his third career playoff hat trick you aren’t going to beat the Pens.
The Penguins put on a magic show Wednesday to down the Philadelphia Flyers 7-0 in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal. While it’s too early to draw any conclusions about how this series will play out, the dynamic performance is a reminder that the Penguins, despite several roster changes, still boast the offensive might and defensive commitment necessary to win a third consecutive Stanley Cup.
“You can call it a statement,” said Penguins center Derick Brassard, who joined the team at the trade deadline. “I’ve seen this from the other side. There are a lot of guys who are trying to be first on the puck, using their speed and they are hard to handle.”
Crosby and Malkin were near-impossible to handle in this game. They remain the top two reasons why the Penguins have a shot at a three-peat.
In the first period, Malkin, fresh from serving a two-minute penalty, roared down the ice and beat Philadelphia goalie Brian Elliott cleanly with a precision backhander to make it a 3-0 game. It was a magnificent dash and memorable shot.
Evgeni Malkin scores in the first period. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
In the second period, Crosby scored his first goal by backhanding the puck into the net with a baseball-like swing.
“They are two highlight-type goals by elite players,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “There aren’t too many guys who can make those plays.”
Malkin looked more dazzling in the second period when he stickhandled through multiple defenders to fire a shot off the post.
The level of play displayed by Crosby and Malkin, particularly because it came in Game 1, makes one wonder whether they see themselves on a special mission to dramatically lead the charge to a third title.
Crosby knows the history of the game, maybe he is trying to do what Mark Messier did in 1990 when he made it his personal mission to lead the Edmonton Oilers, then without Wayne Gretzky, to their fifth Stanley Cup title in seven seasons
“Sometimes we marvel at what (Crosby and Malkin) do out there,” Sullivan said.
“Their talent level. Their instincts. Those two goals are an indication of how talented they are. As coaches, sometimes you take it for granted because we’ve seen it a number of times over the course of a few seasons. Every once in a while they come up with the highlight reel goals. They are exciting to watch and they are certainly inspirational type goals for our team. That’s what these guys bring.”
Crosby registered four shots, was plus-5 in this game and won 57% of his faceoffs.
Sidney Crosby redirects a shot past goalie Brian Elliott in the second period. (Gene J. Puskar/AP)
The Flyers weren’t at their best, and they will undoubtedly play better in Game 2. But this game was more about how well the Penguins played than how poorly the Flyers performed.
Elliott, Philadelphia's starter, was pulled after giving up five goals, but coach Dave Hakstol said after the game that his “first instinct” is to say that Elliott will be in the net for Game 2.
It’s not as if this Pittsburgh offensive display is a surprise. The Penguins posted a 27-11-3 record in the second half of the season, and scored three or more goals in 33 of those 41 games. They scored five or more in 17 games.
The Penguins beat Philadelphia four times in the regular season and scored five goals a game in all four victories.
On a night when 12 different Penguins recorded points, the secondary story was that they limited the Flyers’ scoring opportunities. Team defensive play is supposed to be the Penguins’ weakness, but they only gave up 24 shots on goal.
“I think it was a commitment to defend the right way,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said there’s risk that goes with the Penguins’ creative playmaking skills. “We don’t discourage our guys from playmaking because we think it’s the identity of the group,” Sullivan said.
Sullivan said what he liked about his team’s defensive performance was when the Penguins turned over the puck “there was urgency and effort from the puck to track and recover.”
Hakstol said his team’s undoing was the inconsistency of their efficiency.
“You can’t play in spurts against this hockey team at this time of year,” Hakstol said.
The Penguins have 33 playoff wins over the last 24 months to prove the validity of that statement.
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