BLUE JACKETS vs. BRUINS - GAME 4
Blue Jackets lead series 2-1
Thursday, 7:30 p.m., Nationwide Arena (NBCSN, CBC, Sportsnet, TVA Sports, CBJ app, 97.1 The Fan; postgame on Fox Sports Ohio)
The Blue Jackets have done a lot of good things while taking a 2-1 series lead on the Boston Bruins in their second-round playoff series, but one thing they haven't done a ton of is score goals.
The same could be said of second-year forward Pierre-Luc Dubois.
The big-bodied 20-year-old has used his size, prodigious frame and high battle level to at times impose himself on this series, but he's one of a number of Blue Jackets who haven't gotten their scoring mojo going in the series.
GAME 4 HUB: Highlights, tweets, and news
Columbus has just seven goals in the three games so far, one of which was scored by Dubois when Artemi Panarin's shot went off his shin and beat a crossed-up Tuukka Rask in Game 1. But that's the only point of the series for Dubois, who had 27 goals and 61 points this season.
He's also minus-3 in the series, but he started to flash away from the puck more in Game 3 in Nationwide Arena, including winning a number of wall battles and getting the puck deep with strong plays as the Jackets held on to a 2-1 lead in the final period.
"Those are big plays, advancing zones, getting the puck out of our zone into the neutral zone, and once it's in the neutral zone to get it in the offensive zone," Dubois said. "I don't think there's a stat for that or anything, but they're big plays.
"You look at Boone (Jenner's) line, I think every shift, they advance the puck out of each zone one zone at a time. It's not the most exciting thing, it's not on the stat sheet, but when the game finishes 2-1, that's maybe why we win."
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Dubois was one of the Blue Jackets tasked with keeping Boston off the board the final minute of Game 3. He blocked two shots and had a hit in the last 30 seconds as the Jackets held on to their 2-1 lead to take the series lead.
"That was crazy," he said. "I think we stayed calm. We won, so that's what counts, but I think we can do a little better job of sustaining pressure in their zone (down the stretch) and not being our zone as much, but we stayed calm, blocked some shots, got pucks out, and you can't complain about that."
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Game 3 storyline
It was another even game in Nationwide Arena as the Jackets won Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead over Boston, but head coach John Tortorella sees room for improvement out of his team.
He's not going to get too deep into what it is, but the Blue Jackets will have a team meeting with a purpose Thursday morning ahead of Game 4.
"Quite honestly, I viewed the tape and we have a number of things we need to improve," Tortorella said. "I think we have a number of different things we need to improve that we are going to bring to light tomorrow in our morning meetings, and I think we need a number of players playing better."
While the Blue Jackets need more offense -- the team has just three goals at 5-on-5 during the series, with the team's secondary scoring in a bit of a funk against the hard-checking Bruins -- you might have to imagine much of the talk will be about playing defensively.
Columbus gave up just one goal in the Game 3 win vs. Boston, but it could have been worse. The Bruins hit the post/crossbar thrice during the game, and Sergei Bobrovsky had to make spectacular saves early in the first period, near the end of the second, and in the third as the Bruins pushed for the tying goal.
"By no means are we playing perfect hockey," defenseman Seth Jones said Wednesday. "We can fix some things defensively and continue to just get better every day. We're happy about the Game 3 win, but we need to keep looking forward and stay focused."
The entire playoffs to this point for the Blue Jackets has been about not being satisfied even as the team has piled up wins. It appears the message hasn't changed going into a Game 4 in which Columbus can take command of the series.
"No team is going to complain after a win, but we made some mistakes," Dubois said. "We didn't play a perfect game, but a win is a win. It's important to improve every game, improve on our mistakes and not make the same ones every game."
Columbus: Jenner has 12 shots on goal and a tally in the past two games. … Matt Duchene has game-winning goals in consecutive games and a team-high five tallies this postseason.
Boston: Hometown kid Charlie Coyle has two goals and a primary assist so far in the series. … Jake DeBrusk finally got off the schneid with a goal in Game 3 vs. the Blue Jackets.
Columbus: Bobrovsky was masterful in Game 3, especially in the third period as the Bruins threw everything they had at him. He's arguably been the difference in a series balanced on a knife's edge, stopping 94.3 percent of Boston's shots thus far.
Boston: Rask hasn't been Bobrovsky in the series, but he's been very good, allowing just seven goals in the three games an posting a .928 save percentage. He'd likely want Jenner's goal back in Game 3 but made a number of important saves as the contest went on.
If Boston is going to get back in this series, it's going to need to get more production out of its big guns.
Whereas Columbus has seen production from such players as Jones (0-4-4), Duchene (2-0-2), Cam Atkinson (0-3-3) and Artemi Panarin (2-2-4), the Bruins are waiting for Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and David Krejci to get going.
While the two appear to have been battling injury knocks during the series, it's still gonna be hard for Boston to win when those three players - who combined for 126 goals and 333 points during the regular season -- have just the one goal combined they've put in thus far.
Some of the credit, of course, has to go to a Blue Jackets defense that similarly shut down Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point (127 regular-season goals combined, just one in the four-game sweep in round one) vs. Tampa Bay.
"I said during the regular season toward the end of the year, if you don't check, you're not going to be ready to play in the playoffs," Tortorela said. "It's just the way the game is in the National Hockey League that when you get to the playoffs, you need to defend and you need to have a concentration on defending. All teams are doing it in the playoffs. We're not anything special. We're just trying to find our way and trying to find our game."
From the Boston side, it's a source of frustration, something that might have manifested itself when Marchand took a swing at the back of defenseman Scott Harrington's head late in Game 3.
Head coach Bruce Cassidy has tweaked the lines repeatedly, but Pastrnak hasn't been able to get going whether he's been with Marchand and Bergeron or lower in the lineup. The introduction of Karson Kuhlman into the lineup in Game 3 didn't have much of an impact either, and it appears 13-year veteran David Backes (7-13-20 in 70 regular-season games) could be put in Kuhlman's place for Game 4.
3 keys to the game
Get guys going: As Tortorella said, as well as the Jackets have stood toe-to-toe with the Bruins, the team hasn't really gotten its secondary scoring going. Dubois, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Josh Anderson and Ryan Dzingel have combined for one point this series, and getting one or two of those guys going could make a huge difference.
Keep composure: It's the kind of series that gets the blood pumping, from the ear-rattling roars in Nationwide Arena to the hard hits to the occasional Marchand tomfoolery. The Blue Jackets have kept their cool throughout, but that remains a key, especially after the Boston forward's late shot on Harrington in Game 3.
Grind them down: With Boston having played a seven-game series in the first round vs. Toronto, with just one day between series before facing Columbus, the Bruins could fatigue as the series goes on. The Jackets have to stay relentless and build a forecheck against a team that's played a lot more hockey than them in the past few weeks.
Blue Jackets projected lineup
*Subject to change
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Matt Duchene - Josh Anderson
Ryan Dzingel - Alexander Wennberg - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Brandon Dubinsky - Boone Jenner - Riley Nash
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Dean Kukan - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Adam Clendening
Scratched: F Alexandre Texier, Markus Hannikainen, Lukas Sedlak, Eric Robinson; D Markus Nutivaara (injured), Adam McQuaid (injured), Ryan Murray (IR), Vladislav Gavrikov, Andrew Peeke; G Keith Kinkaid, Elvis Merzlikins