In a game that featured seven goals, goaltending was the difference. When look ing at the tale of the tape between the goaltenders for the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets, I’m pretty sure any betting man would have placed their bet on Sergei Bobrovsky bettering Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
At the end of last year, Bobrovsky was accepting the Vezina Trophy, which is awarded to the NHL‘s best goaltender; at the same time, Fleury was looking back at a playoff outing in which he was replaced by Tomas Vokoun after he failed to perform once again in the postseason. The New York Islanders almost snuck by the Penguins in the first round due to Fluery’s consistently sloppy play.
You also can’t forget that two postseasons ago, Fleury had one of the most atrocious series a goaltender has ever had. In just six games against the Philadelphia Flyers, Fleury allowed 26 goals (for a solid 4.33 goals against average).
The leash was short for Fleury on Wednesday night, but he played very well despite being scored on three times. Looking back at the Blue Jackets’ three goals, it’s impossible to place any blame on Fleury, who was left out to dry by his defensemen throughout the game.
Jack Johnson‘s goal was a breakaway from the high slot into the crease, Mark Letestu‘s goal was on a rebound in which Fleury had no chance, and Derek MacKensie‘s shorthanded goal was on a breakaway after a horrendous turnover by Kris Letang.
With the score 3-1 in favor of the Blue Jackets early in the second period, it was Bobrovsky’s game to lose. It’s hard to fault him for the Penguins’ two power play goals that tied the game at three goals a piece, but it’s the game winner that Bobrovsky most likely wants back.
Facing a 2-on-1, Blue Jackets defenseman Fedor Tyutin laid down and took away the passing lane, which allowed Bobrovsky to get square to Brandon Sutter. Bobrovsky’s angle appeared to be spot on, but Sutter let a shot go that snuck under his arm on the blocker side for the eventual game-winning goal. It’s a shot that you would normally see Bobrovsky stop nine out of 10 times.
It was far from a spectacular shot, but it was the difference in the game. No one said Fleury had to be fantastic in this series in order for Pittsburgh to advance – he simply has to play well enough that he doesn’t lose any games for them.
In Game 1, Fleury did just that.
Shane Darrow is an NHL Writer for Rant Sports. You can follow him on Twitter @ShaneDarrow