First shot is a charm for Penguins rookie Bennett

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It was a split-second, laser-precision shot, but there was a lot that led up to Beau Bennett's power-play goal.

A rookie winger who worked on his own progression in his first NHL -- and pro -- season, Bennett's game grew quickly to the point that the Penguins felt comfortable not only putting him into the lineup in the playoffs, but also sending him out on a power play for his first shift.

He rewarded them with the first goal in a 5-0 smackdown against the New York Islanders Wednesday night in Game 1 of a first-round Eastern Conference series at Consol Energy Center.

The shot, from near the bottom of the right circle, cut upward, across the front of Islanders goaltender Evgeni Nabokov and into the far upper corner of the net at 3:30 of the first period.

"That's something I work on quite a bit, that short-side shot," Bennett said. "Luckily, it went in the spot I wanted it to."

It was Bennett's first NHL playoff goal on his first NHL playoff shot in his first NHL playoff game.

Bennett, 21, was the Penguins' first-round pick in the 2010 NHL draft, out of Los Angeles. He spent the first several months this season with Wilkes-Barre-Scranton of the American Hockey League.

He was first called up in mid-February and had three goals, 14 points in 25 games.

There was some question about whether the Penguins would dress Bennett in the playoffs, where the learning curve can be steep.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said two things went into that decision -- the responsible play he showed after he was called up in mid-February and his offensive flair.

"He actually showed a lot more in the beginning than lately that made that decision," Bylsma said. "He's come up with big plays defensively, shot blocks. He's been solid defensively, and that early on got him more opportunity -- more games, different situations."

Bylsma said Bennett's play in a three-game road trip late in the season to Carolina, Tampa Bay and Florida filled in any gaps in Bennett's game.

"In a fourth-line role, he added a dimension to our fourth line that we don't have," Bylsma said. "That's an ability to hold on to the puck, to make a play in the offensive zone. That really was a trial run for his opportunity."

In those three games, Bennett had a goal, two assists and a plus-minus rating of plus-2.

"When I first came in here, I was just trying to be responsible, get pucks out, not be a liability," he said. "As of late, I've been trying to hold onto the puck a little bit more and make plays from there. It's just a confidence thing."

Bennett began the game Wednesday as a member of the fourth line with Craig Adams and Tanner Glass. He later got moved up to the top line with Evgeni Malkin and Chris Kunitz after James Neal left the game early in the second period because of an unspecified injury.

That's quite a bump up from potentially being a healthy scratch.

Bennett found out he was in the lineup earlier in the day, but to play it safe, he went through his normal night-before routine, which included a late dinner with teammates.

"I'm not that superstitious," he said.

Still, he'll grow a playoff beard if he can -- "I've been growing that out all year," he joked about his blond peach fuzz -- and might try growing out his dark-blond hair.

That might help him fit his nickname better. His teammates call him "Sunshine."

"It's from 'Remember the Titans,' the California kid with the long, blond hair," Bennett said. "I'm growing it out. I'll see what happens. It gets pretty ratty at some point."

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For more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at Shelly Anderson: and Twitter @pgshelly. First Published May 2, 2013 4:00 AM


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