PITTSBURGH – For most of the one-sided 60 minutes, the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins appeared to be replaying last season’s Eastern Conference finals.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury certainly made it seem that way. The Penguins got a goal and an assist each from Crosby and Malkin and shut down the frustrated Flyers’ fleet of scorers for a 4-1 victory Wednesday night in the opening game of the first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
Fleury, idle for long stretches in the first two periods as his teammates controlled play at the other end, made 26 saves to help the Penguins win their fourth consecutive conference playoff series opener.
The Penguins controlled the Flyers much like they did in winning the conference finals 4-1 last season, when they scored at least four goals in each victory and finished it off with a 6-0 rout in Game 5.
Dating to Game 4 of that series, the Penguins had scored 12 consecutive playoff goals against the Flyers until Simon Gagne scored late in the third period with Pittsburgh leading 4-0.
“It was important not because of last year, but because you want to start the series off right. But last year’s done … I don’t think that was in anybody’s mind,” Crosby said. “We certainly want to be tough at home and establish that early.”
The Flyers didn’t like it, either, ending the game with three players in the penalty box as they tried to send a message through some physical play that Game 2 on Friday night won’t be so easy.
“We know that their style. That’s how they play,” Fleury said. “But it’s nice to see how the guys handled it with no problem and just moved on.”
The Penguins put the pressure on early, built a multiple-goal lead while not letting Philadelphia – which had an NHL-high six players with 25 or more goals – sustain any offense.
They also leaned on Fleury to make the big saves when the Flyers did make a push.
They also waited for Flyers mistakes, and there were plenty of them – the first of which was Philadelphia not holding a third-period lead Sunday at home against the Rangers.
New York’s 4-3 victory meant the Flyers opened the series in Pittsburgh rather than on their home ice, and it made a difference.
“I thought we played our game, everyone’s rolling,” said Tyler Kennedy, who scored early in the second to make it 2-0. “It’s huge winning the first game, but Game 1 ends tonight. The next game is big.”
The Penguins also took advantage of some careless penalties, including a hooking call on a tired Arron Asham that led to Crosby’s power-play goal at 4:41 of the first period.
Asham couldn’t get off the ice during a line change, stayed out for an extended shift and drew a pivotal penalty as Crosby scored 15 seconds into the power play.
Crosby threw the puck down low to Malkin, whose rebound deflected off Crosby’s skate, the goal post and goalie Martin Biron’s right skate before settling into the back of the net.
The goal was upheld after a video replay confirmed Crosby didn’t intentionally kick the puck.
“That’s the worse-case scenario, coming in here to start in their building and taking a penalty they capitalize on,” coach John Stevens said. “I thought it was an undisciplined penalty.
“You really make it an uphill battle.”
Kennedy scored at 1:39 of the second after Braydon Coburn turned the puck over in the neutral zone, allowing Jordan Staal to start an up-ice rush that ended with Kennedy chipping the puck into the top of the net.
“I would have been (mad) if he missed it, that’s for sure,” Staal said of Kennedy holding onto the puck during a 3-on-1 break. “Obviously, he felt confident he could get that goal.”
Philadelphia, held without a shot for the first 10 minutes of the second, finally started pressuring late in the period and was on the power play to start the third because of a Brooks Orpik elbowing penalty.
Mike Richards put off a shot off the right post in the opening minute of the third – a goal would have cut it to 2-1 – but Scott Hartnell’s tripping penalty shortly after that blunted any momentum the Flyers were building.
“Having to play catch-up hockey against that team is not an easy thing,” Biron said.
Malkin made it 3-0 at 6:28 after another giveaway. Mike Knuble tried banking a pass off the back wall, but the puck skittered to Malkin and he quickly snapped it past Biron. Defenseman Mark Eaton scored 4 minutes later to make it 4-0, his first goal in 24 career playoff games.
“They had more intensity than us,” Knuble said. “We learned a real quick refresher on playoff hockey and how we all need to play in order to have success. You’re not going to do it by being in the penalty box.”
Notes: Penguins F Chris Kunitz’s wife, Maureen, gave birth to the couple’s first child, son Zachary James, 10 hours before faceoff. … Pittsburgh is trying to become the first team to win the Stanley Cup the season after losing in the finals since Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton in 1984. … The Penguins won four of six from the Flyers during the season, two in overtime. … Pittsburgh was 0-for-6 on the power play after Crosby’s goal. … Counting this game, the Penguins are 19-3-4 under interim coach Dan Bylsma.