PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Penguins made a statement in Game 1 in the 2018 Battle of Pennsylvania.
The Pens scored three goals in the first 14:09 to seize a 3-0 first-period lead and they never looked back, cruising to a 7-0 win over the Flyers Wednesday night at PPG Paints Arena.
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby led the way with his third career postseason hat trick.
Crosby’s linemate Jake Guentzel contributed a four-point night (goal and three assists) and a plus-5 rating.
Flyers starting goaltender Brian Elliott was pulled after surrendering five goals in the opening 29:01 of the game. Petr Mrazek replaced Elliott and stopped 12 of the 14 shots he faced.
Elliott has now lost his last eight playoff decisions dating back to the 2016 Western Conference Finals.
Pittsburgh took a 1-0 series lead with Game 2 Friday night in Pittsburgh.
• The Flyers' worst nightmare came true as the Penguins scored those three goals right out of the chute with the Flyers' top players on the ice for all three (see story).
• On the Penguins' first goal, Elliott had poor rebound control. Ideally, Elliott would have preferred to blocker Kris Letang’s shot to the far-side boards. Instead, it came out to Bryan Rust, who beat Elliott up high. Ivan Provorov could have stepped up on Letang to block the shot or possibly prevent it from being shot on net.
• On the Penguins' third goal, Evgeni Malkin stepped out of the box and put on a clinic with no help from the Flyers defensively. Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux appeared fatigue after an extended power-play shift and neither guy provided Shayne Gostisbehere with any backchecking help. Couturier, Giroux and Gostisbehere all finished with a minus-3 rating in that opening period.
• I think there’s still some tentativeness from the core muscle surgery as Elliott still doesn’t appear to look completely comfortable in net. Guentzel’s power-play goal for a 4-0 lead was a play in which Elliott had just a slight hesitation in covering the far post. The season finale against the Rangers didn’t really test Elliott, and as much as the Flyers' defense didn’t help him out, the netminder couldn’t provide the big or timely save the Flyers needed.
• Quite simply, for the Flyers to have any chance in this series, their star players have to outperform Pittsburgh’s star players. On Wednesday, they weren't even close as Crosby and Malkin put on a dazzling display with some highlight-reel goals and open-ice moves that will leave Dave Hakstol with insomnia until the puck drops for Game 2.
• Crosby’s goals — batting a poorly struck slap shot out of midair to redirecting a shot from the slot — were just further proof of his impressive hand-eye coordination, while Malkin delivered a skating exhibition, darting in and around Flyers defenders.
• Despite falling behind in the opening three minutes, the Flyers came out with a strong attack and early scoring chances. After the first 10 minutes, those scoring opportunities dissolved quickly as the Penguins were buzzing in the Flyers' zone and Hakstol's team couldn’t adjust accordingly. In the final regular-season matchup, the Flyers were able to break out of their zone successfully and create offense. They couldn’t generate anything in transition Wednesday.
• The Flyers' fourth line generated the best scoring chances on Penguins goaltender Matt Murray, with some good looks from in the high-danger areas. Jori Lehtera simply doesn’t possess the quick release or the ability to jump on pucks fast enough to make that line a real scoring threat but credit its work ethic for making something happen. The problem is, when a fourth line is creating the best scoring opportunities, you’re typically doing very little offensively.