Saturday's win against Flyers just the beginning for Penguins
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury withstands a Flyers rush in the first period, denying Max Talbot for one of his 26 saves in the Penguins' season-opening win at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia -- the place where the Penguins' 2011-12 season ended in April.
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PHILADELPHIA -- This avenges nothing, and the Penguins know it.
Beating Philadelphia, 3-1, Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center in a game that represents about 2.1 percent of the regular-season schedule hardly offsets their loss to the Flyers in a best-of-seven playoff series in April 2012.
But it will have to do for the Penguins until an opportunity for something more fulfilling -- which is to say, something in mid- to late spring -- comes along.
"It never will [be erased]," said Penguins left winger Chris Kunitz, who sealed the victory with an empty-net goal with 11.2 seconds left in regulation. "When you have a goal to win the trophy and they knock you out, it's something you never get over."
Although the victory Saturday hardly was a novelty -- the Penguins are 9-2-1 in their past 12 regular-season visits to Philadelphia -- the formula that made it possible was, at least on some levels.
Their penalty-killers, who leaked in goals with breathtaking regularity in that playoff series, snuffed all five of the Flyers' opportunities with the extra man, including two in the final 5 1/2 minutes.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who lived through his share of recurring nightmares in April, rejected 26 of 27 shots, and came through with a number of quality and timely saves.
And most surprising of all, the Penguins won without a prominent contribution from Sidney Crosby, who was shut out after accumulating 13 goals and 17 assists in his previous 19 regular-season games in Philadelphia.
Crosby wasn't invisible -- he won 13 of 20 faceoffs and recorded three shots on goal -- but hardly was the dominant presence he has been so often in this building.
Indeed, Crosby enters the Penguins' game against the New York Rangers at 7:08 p.m. today at Madison Square Garden a full two points behind defenseman Paul Martin -- yes, that Paul Martin -- in the team scoring race.
But while Crosby's profile wasn't as high as usual, Fleury's was right around where the Penguins need it to be, as he earned his 227th career victory, breaking Tom Barrasso's franchise record.
"It feels pretty good," Fleury said. "I kind of forget about [the record], since it didn't happen last season."
If not for the Claude Giroux deflection of a Scott Hartnell pass that got by him 23 seconds into the middle period, Fleury would have broken the team record of 22 shutouts he shares with Barrasso, too.
"Our goaltender had a great game," Kunitz said. "Probably one of the best things that could have happened for him was to have a game like this."
But, even though he finished with more saves than anyone else, Fleury had some competition for the most important one.
While the Penguins were protecting a 2-1 lead and trying to kill an interference minor assessed to defenseman Deryk Engelland at 14:27 of the third period, Hartnell threw a shot from the left side of the crease that eluded Fleury.
It did not, however, get past penalty-killer Craig Adams, who knocked it away before it could reach the goal line.
"I just went to the back door, and somehow I saw the puck coming through [Fleury's] legs," Adams said. "I just stuck my stick out and hit it and, luckily, it bounced out the right way so I could get it out. A little bit of good luck there."
Tyler Kennedy put the Penguins in front to stay by tipping a Martin shot past Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov at 4:40 of the opening period -- although replays suggested Kennedy might not have touched the puck -- and James Neal scored off an Evgeni Malkin faceoff win at 7:20 for what proved to be the game-winner.
Giroux's goal early in the second revived the Flyers, who had the better of play in those 20 minutes, but they couldn't get another puck past Fleury.
That's partly because the Penguins' penalty-killers looked a lot more like the unit that had been one of the league's finest in the regular season last winter than the group so routinely dissected by the Flyers in the playoffs.
"[No one] on the [penalty-killing unit] feels good about last spring," said Adams, who logged 4:03 of short-handed ice time. "And we had a long time to think about it."
Which was pretty much the case with everything associated with the series that ended their season.
But while most likely never will forget the way the Flyers short-circuited what they had hope would be a run at the Stanley Cup, they recognize the folly of dwelling on it.
"Last spring is last spring," Adams said. "I think I'll always look back on it as a wasted opportunity. We had a great team -- not that they didn't -- and envisioned ourselves going further, and who knows what could have happened? But we can't do anything about that now."
First Published January 20, 2013 12:00 am