There have been several unpredictable and borderline-crazy things about this series between the Blue Jackets and Penguins, but one constant has been the importance of special teams.
Heading into the series, it would have appeared that Pittsburgh, - which owned the second-best power play in the NHL during the regular season and also the league’s second-best penalty killing unit - had a significant advantage in the special teams department.
The Blue Jackets, whose power play has improved this season and hovered around the middle of the pack prior to the playoffs, knew they needed to stay out of the box against a high-powered Pittsburgh team.
But as we’ve seen through four games in the series, a lot has happened in the opposite way it was expected. The Blue Jackets have used their power play to score some huge goals in the series, most notable two timely tallies in Game 4 after the Penguins raced out to a 3-0 lead.
Trailing 3-0 less than 12 minutes into the game and appearing a bit unsettled by how quickly it had happened, the Blue Jackets were just looking for an opportunity to get one back in the first period. When Todd Richards called his timeout after James Neal made it 3-0, he implored the Jackets to take it one goal at a time and keep chipping away.
As it turned out, Boone Jenner’s second goal of the series had a profound impact on the game and series. He made it a 3-1 game late in the first period, and midway through the second period, Columbus capitalized on a lengthy 5-on-3 to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to one goal.
From there, it was game on.
“We needed something to engage our fans and that (first) goal helped us,” Richards said. “In the second, they ran into some penalty problems and we were able to generate a lot of momentum off of our power play and then, obviously, score a huge goal.
“From that moment, again, we talk about hope. You're down 3-0 against the Penguins, even 3-1 against the Penguins, but at 3-2, the way the game was going, there was hope. We battled all the way until the end, sometimes at the last minute it happens and our guys stuck with it for 60 minutes and we were rewarded in the last minute."
Brandon Dubinsky tied the game with Sergei Bobrovsky on the bench and 23 seconds left in regulation, but before that, Ryan Johansen drew the Blue Jackets to 3-2 down with another power play goal at a key moment.
It was his second goal of the series and second scored on the power play - and both goals got Columbus within one. Like many of his teammates, Johansen said the timeliness of the special teams strikes and the fact that they never believed they were out of it contributed to a strong feeling of optimism on the Blue Jackets’ bench in Game 4.
“I think it was big, especially because we got one at the end of the period…coming into the room that gave us some momentum there, believing in each other that we can get the job done,” Johansen said. “I can’t say enough about the team in here, the resilience showed and we just kept plugging away, shift after shift, and found a way to get it done.”
Said overtime hero Nick Foligno (playing only his second game of the series since returning from a lower body injury): “Just to find that answer, I think that says a lot about the character in this room.”