A Fleury of activity as Penguins win Game 1

The Associated Press and The Canadian Press
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Rangers, Red Wings, Canucks and Predators also open with victories

Pittsburgh Penguins' goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) blocks a shot by Tampa Bay Lightning forward Teddy Purcell (16) during the opening-game of their first-round NHL playoff series in Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. The Penguins won 3-0.

With an audible giggle, Marc-Andre Fleury could only shake his head and smile when recalling two of his most acrobatic saves in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ playoff-opening win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

The Lightning players were shaking their heads, too — in frustration as Fleury stood tall and backstopped the Penguins’ 3-0 victory on Wednesday night.

Fleury made 32 saves — including a stop on Ryan Malone with his back to the play — to stymie a Lightning team that finished second in the Eastern Conference with 247 goals.

His effort provided the Penguins’ slow-starting offence time to get in gear.

Alex Kovalev and Arron Asham scored third-period goals 18 seconds apart to help the Penguins win the first playoff game in their new arena. Fleury was the star, and was treated that way afterward, leaving he ice to fans chanting his last name and “MVP! MVP.”

“Whatever needs to be done,” Fleury said of his fifth playoff shutout that pushed him to within one of tying Tom Barrasso’s franchise record. “I just tried to do my thing, and the players up front got some big goals for us and it worked out all right.”

For all their offence, the Lightning’s stars — from Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos and on down to Malone— couldn’t solve Fleury in the first playoff meeting between the teams.

Game 2 is at Pittsburgh on Friday.

“Fleury was outstanding, no question about it,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. “I just saw some clips of the replays and I still can’t believe he made some of those saves.”

Believe it.

Fleury’s best stop came 11 minutes in. He contorted himself to stop a Brett Clark point shot that was deflected in front by Dominic Moore, who was so sure the puck had gone in he had already raised his arms to celebrate. Then, with Fleury’s back to the play, the flopping goalie raised his leg to stop Malone’s attempt to flip the puck in from the left side.

“I thought it was behind me, so I just tried to do something that I do in practice once in a while,” Fleury said.

He wasn’t done.

In the opening minute of the second, Fleury stopped Stamkos’ shot from the left point and then reached back to get his blocker arm to deny Lecavalier, who got off a clean shot on a nifty play. Getting the rebound on his backhand, Lecavalier set himself up by slipping the puck through his legs to his forehand.

Malone isn’t one to look back on the missed opportunities or the big saves.

“Nothing to get frustrated about here,” he said.

The Lightning did question the disparity in penalties, with the Penguins having six power-play opportunities to Tampa Bay’s one.

Boucher sidestepped a question about the officiating, saying, “I’m never surprised by anything.”

With Sidney Crosby watching from the coaching box upstairs, the Penguins opened the playoffs much like they did in finishing the last half of the regular season proving they can win without their captain, who continues to recover from a concussion.

Capitals 2, Rangers 1, OT

At  Washington, Alexander Semin scored at 18:24 of overtime and Washington rallied for a win over the New York Rangers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference playoff series. Semin took a pass from Jason Arnott, after the Rangers failed to clear the puck out of their end, and scored on a one-timer past Henrik Lundqvist.

New York defenceman Matt Gilroy broke a scoreless tie 1:56 into the third period, and Washington captain Alex Ovechkin tied it during a scramble at the crease with 6:16 left in regulation.

Michal Neuvirth made 24 saves to win his NHL playoff debut. Lundqvist stopped 31 shots.

Game 2 is Friday in Washington.

Red Wings 4, Coyotes 2

At Detroit, Pavel Datsyuk and Johan Franzen scored midway through the second period to put Detroit ahead, and the Red Wings went on to beat Phoenix in Game 1 of the Western Conference first-round playoff series.

Brian Rafalski and Jiri Hudler also scored for Detroit.

Jimmy Howard made 26 saves for the third-seeded Red Wings.

Kyle Turris and Radim Vrbata replied for the sixth-seeded Coyotes.

Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov  gave up three goals on 17 shots in the second and finished with 32 saves.

Game 2 is Saturday in Detroit.

Canucks 2, Blackhawks 0

At Vancouver, Jannik Hansen scored on a pretty breakaway in the first period and goaltender Roberto Luongo stopped all 32 shots he faced as the Canucks blanked Chicago.

Chris Higgins also scored for the Canucks in the opening game of the Western Conference quarter-final series.

Game 2 is Friday in Vancouver.

Luongo’s shutout win came against a Chicago team that has dented  his confidence and battered his pride in past playoffs.

The defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks have eliminated the Canucks from the second round of the playoffs the last two seasons. Chicago had won the previous five playoff games in Vancouver, outscoring the Canucks 27-12.

The Canucks, who finished first overall in the NHL with 117 points, cruised into the playoffs. The Blackhawks needed a loss by the Dallas Stars on the final day of the season to back into eighth place in the West with 97 points.

Organizations: Pittsburgh Penguins, Canucks, Red Wings Tampa Bay Lightning.The Lightning NHL New York Rangers Dallas Stars

Geographic location: Pittsburgh, Washington, Chicago Michal Detroit Phoenix Vancouver

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