By Mike Majeski
On paper, the Penguins are heavy favorites over the Blue Jackets. Not only did Pittsburgh sweep Columbus in five regular-season games, but the Penguins are also an experienced playoff team with two of the biggest offensive weapons in the NHL. The Blue Jackets, who are making only the second playoff appearance in franchise history, have a young lineup and are without experienced veterans Nick Foligno, Nathan Horton and R.J. Umberger. But Game 1 of this series on Wednesday night showed that things aren't always as they seem.
Some observations from Game 1:
• The power play is going to make or break these teams. We saw the best and worst of both on the man advantage. The Blue Jackets drew first blood on the power play to go up 2-1 on a Mark Letestu wrist shot at the end of the first period. Derek MacKenzie then scored a shorthanded goal for Columbus early in the second period to put his team up 3-1. But the Penguins needed less than two minutes to tie the score with a pair of power play goals. Both teams are going have to keep their emotions in check and stay out of the penalty box.
• The Blue Jackets stuck with their heavy-hitting, dump-and-chase game for the first two periods, but they seemed to run out of gas in the last 10 minutes of the third – something they struggled with at times throughout the season. A young team, Columbus will need to get its playoff legs quickly in order to stick with Pittsburgh.
• Entering this series, the biggest concern for the Penguins was the play of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Yes, he backstopped Pittsburgh to consecutive appearances in Stanley Cup finals in 2008 and ’09, but he played dreadfully when the Penguins bombed out of the playoffs in ’12 and ’13. Tonight, he seemed to earn the trust of his teammates, stopping 31 of 34 shots. Fleury wasn’t always perfect, but this victory was a positive step for him.
• Pittsburgh winger Beau Bennett welcomed 20-year-old Ryan Murray to his first postseason with a hard hit that left the Blue Jackets' defenseman with a bloody nose. Murray stuffed some cotton in both nostrils and was on the ice for his next shift.