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Built for playoffs, Dubinsky's will lifts Blue Jackets

by Craig Merz

Nick Foligno is not the only player in the Columbus Blue Jackets' dressing room who is good at making predictions.

The left wing told his teammates before the start of overtime in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference First Round series Wednesday that he would score the winner against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and he did for a 4-3 win that knotted the Stanley Cup Playoffs best-of-7 series at 2-2.

Columbus rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win Game 4, and from down 3-1 in Game 2, with the Penguins also coming back from trailing 3-1 in Games 1 and 3. It's the first series in Stanley Cup Playoffs history in which four consecutive games have been won by a team trailing by two or more goals, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

A day prior to that victory, teammate Mark Letestu was asked what fiery center Brandon Dubinsky means to a young team that has thrived under the leadership of veteran players.

"Dubi relishes the big moments," Letestu said. "If you think back to the big moments the last two years for this franchise, he seems to be in or around it.

"His game is built for the playoffs. You can see at any moment that he's head-first into it."

Foligno's 60-footer that gave the long-suffering Columbus fans their first home playoff win in franchise history will long be remembered, but if Dubinsky had not tied the score with 24 seconds left in regulation there wouldn't have been the opportunity for overtime heroics.

"It was fitting" that Dubinsky scored, Columbus coach Todd Richards said.

Richards had asked so much of Dubinsky in the series that he was glad to see him rewarded for the greasy work he'd done to keep Penguins star Sidney Crosby from scoring in the first four games.

"I use him most of the time to match up against Crosby, and that's not an easy task," Richards said. "He's hard on draws and has the physical game and commitment to playing defense. He's not perfect, and some of the players he's playing against are not going to make him a perfect player."

Dubinsky has been a shadow on skates, getting in Crosby's face and punishing him with hits. Yes, Crosby has four assists in the series, but that's what he's supposed to do. Dubinsky has a goal, five assists and a plus-1 rating compared to a minus-3 for his more decorated counterpart.

He has also helped limit Crosby to 12 shots.

"If you consider yourself a good player or a top player, and I do, then this team relies on me to be that," Dubinsky said. "Your top player has to be your best player. I've tried to do go out there every night and do my best."

He doesn't have to score to get the crowd to let out a vociferous "Duuuuuu," but it sure didn't hurt in the waning seconds Wednesday when Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury ventured behind the net and mishandled the puck.

Ryan Johansen picked it up and sent a pass to the slot. Dubinsky saw what was happening in front of him and was first to the puck. His shot ripped past Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang into the open net to set off a celebration that carried past the sounding of the horn to end the third period.

"He's used to the playoffs," Dubinsky's linemate Cam Atkinson said. "He knows what it takes to win. That's what great players do. They elevate their game in the playoffs. He's taken it to another level. It's fun to see and to play with him."

Ever the leader, Dubinsky was not only happy with the Game 4 win, but how it was achieved in the workmanlike manner that has become the Blue Jackets' calling card.

"More than my goal, I'm proud of the way our guys settled down after we scored to tie it because it's not the regular season," he said. "There's no one point in the situation. We had to rest and get ourselves ready for overtime."

It's that type of intensity that benefits but sometimes derails Dubinsky. He was called for boarding and slashing penalties in Game 2 and on Dec. 9 at Pittsburgh he argued with the referee so vehemently he received a misconduct and game misconduct midway through the third period of a 2-1 defeat.

Yet the little bad is outweighed by a lot of good, especially in the postseason, where he previously had 31 playoff games for the New York Rangers.

"[Dubinsky's] done a great job, especially on Crosby," Johansen said. "He's one of our more physical players on our team and really tough to beat in the corners and he's a great faceoff guy.

"Some of the people might not have given him enough credit because he hadn't scored. In this room we know what he's done for this team."

Dubinsky can be an agitator, but his style fits in with the Blue Jackets' blue-collar approach.

"You look at their lineup and they have a lot of gritty players (lines) one through four, and they come with a presence every shift," Pittsburgh center Joe Vitale said. "The forechecks are among the hardest I've seen all year."

Brandon Dubinsky
Brandon Dubinsky
Center - CBJ
GOALS: 1 | ASST: 5 | PTS: 6
SOG: 17 | +/-: 1
Dubinsky was acquired from the Rangers along with forward Artem Anisimov and defenseman Tim Erixon in a trade for former captain Rick Nash in July 2012.

Though the Blue Jackets have not had a captain since, Dubinsky and defenseman Jack Johnson are credited by Richards as the players who have done the most to eradicate the losing culture that has existed so long.

Their priority was to get Columbus into the playoffs for the second time in their history and first since 2009.

With that wall climbed, the next challenge is winning a series for the first time. That quest continues in Game 5 on Saturday at Consol Energy Center (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-O, ROOT).

"It's what you dream of as a kid," Dubinsky said. "You play this game for one reason, and that's to lift that 35-pound Cup."

Richards has noticed a change in him from the regular season.

"I've seen a more focused Dubinsky," Richards said. "And what I mean by that is seeing him in morning skates; you can see he's getting himself prepared for the game. There's not as much talking.

"He has taken it to another level. This is the big stage. Big players want to be on the big stage. You want your opportunities and big moments. There's plenty of those this time of the year."

Losing by one. Goalie pulled. Game on the line. Puck on the stick.

It had to be Dubinsky.

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