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Marc-Andre Fleury backstops Pittsburgh Penguins to Game 1 win over Columbus Blue Jackets

By
Shelly Anderson, The Sports Xchange
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) makes a glove save during the first period of game one against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the NHL Eastern Conference Playoff series at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on April 12, 2017. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) makes a glove save during the first period of game one against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the NHL Eastern Conference Playoff series at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh on April 12, 2017. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo

PITTSBURGH -- To hear Pittsburgh Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford tell it, back at the NHL trade deadline in March, he didn't really come close to moving veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury.

On Wednesday, that decision paid off in a big way.

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Fleury, a last-minute starter after goaltender Matt Murray got hurt during the pregame warmup, stopped 31 of 32 shots as the Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 in Game 1 of a first-round Eastern Conference playoff series Wednesday at PPG Paints Arena.

"That fact that we have (Fleury) and Matt is a comfort level," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "We know that they're both No. 1 goalies. I've said all along we're going need both of them. That's just the way the game is."

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Fleury was the Penguins' franchise goalie for more than a decade and helped them win the 2009 Cup. Murray, a rookie, stepped in last year when Fleury was hurt at the start of the postseason and helped Pittsburgh win the 2016 Cup, then took over the No. 1 job this regular season.

There was widespread speculation that Fleury would be traded so the Penguins would not lose one of their two top goalies in the Vegas expansion draft this summer.

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"Some stressful moments during the season," Fleury said. "Sometimes I had to find ways to stay sharp without playing too much. Toward the end, I was getting a little better. Try to build on that and try to get ready for if this ever happened."

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It happened when Murray sustained what Sullivan described as a lower-body injury during the pregame skate-around. He checked with a team medical trainer, then retreated to the locker room. Fleury was elevated to the starting spot, and rookie Tristan Jarry dressed as the backup.

Sullivan said the team might have more information on Murray on Thursday. Game 2 is Friday.

Pittsburgh winger Nick Bonino, who scored Pittsburgh's third goal, said he and his teammates were fully comfortable playing in front of Fleury as a last-minute starter.

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"He's one of the most professional guys we know," Bonino said. "He didn't even blink. He went in there and made 30 saves (actually 31) for us. He was awesome."

The Penguins built a 3-0 lead in the second period with goals from Bryan Rust, Phil Kessel and Bonino. Evgeni Malkin had two assists.

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The Blue Jackets spoiled Fleury's bid for his ninth career playoff shutout when Matt Calvert scored from the slot at 12:41 of the third. A clearing attempt by Fleury scooted past three Penguins and ricocheted out to Calvert.

It was Pittsburgh's 100th home playoff win all-time (100-73).

Fleury was busy early, as the Blue Jackets held a 16-3 advantage in shots in the first period.

"(Fleury) comes out of the bullpen, has a real good first period," Sullivan said.

Rust gave the Penguins a 1-0 lead at 1:15 of the second. Malkin carried the puck over the blue line and passed to Kessel, who gave a little soft-touch pass with his skate to Rust in the slot. Rust one-timed it past goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky's stick. Bobrovsky finished with 26 saves.

"I knew he saw me, and with a guy who's that skilled, I knew he would do everything he can to try and get the puck over to me," Rust said of Kessel's setup.

Kessel's power-play goal 2:30 later gave Pittsburgh a 2-0 lead. He toyed with the puck at the left dot, then snapped it over Bobrovsky's shoulder, far side.

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Malkin picked up his second assist on the goal, giving him 84 career playoff assists and moving him past Jaromir Jagr for third all-time in club history.

"I think they got that first one and put us on our heels a little bit," Columbus center Brandon Dubinsky said. "They got some more momentum with their second.

"There was a stretch there in the second where there was some not-so-good minutes where we lost some momentum and we weren't able to get it back. But overall, not a bad effort for us."

At 16:25, Bonino reached around Bobrovsky (26 save) to score on a rebound for a 3-0 Pittsburgh lead.

"They scored three goals on their first five chances," said Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, whose club was not nearly as productive, a problem lately.

Columbus scored 19 goals over its last 10 regular-season games.

"We're going to have to find more offense," Tortorella said.

NOTES: Mike Sullivan moved into sole possession of fourth place on Pittsburgh's all-time playoff wins list with 17, passing Bob Johnson. ... The Blue Jackets dished out 49 hits, including eight by Josh Anderson, six by Scott Hartnell and five by Boone Jenner. ... As expected, Pittsburgh C Evgeni Malkin and Columbus D Zach Werenski returned from shoulder injuries. ... G Marc-Andre Fleury's last-minute start moved him into tie with G Tom Barrasso for most playoff appearances by a Penguins goaltender, 101. ... Penguins D Ron Hainsey played in his first Stanley Cup playoff game after 907 regular-season games. ... In addition to G Matt Murray, a late scratch, the Penguins scratched D Chad Ruhwedel, D Cameron Gaunce, D Mark Streit, LW Chris Kunitz, LW Tom Sestito, RW Josh Archibald. ... Columbus scratched D Kyle Quincey, D Ryan Murray, D Markus Nutivaara, LW Lauri Korpikoski, C Lukas Sedlak and G Oscar Dansk.

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