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Holding leads no easy task for Penguins, Blue Jackets

by Craig Merz

COLUMBUS -- The Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets won't shy away from trying to score first or take a two-goal lead in Game 4, even though those situations seem cursed. Pittsburgh holds a 2-1 edge in the Eastern Conference First Round best-of-7 series that seems uncommon by Stanley Cup Playoff standards.

Columbus has twice scored the first goal and increased its lead to 3-1 before losing Game 1 and Game 3 by 4-3 scores. The Penguins scored first and led 3-1 in Game 2 but lost 4-3 in double overtime for the Blue Jackets' first playoff win in franchise history.

So what can be expected Wednesday in Game 4 at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-O, ROOT)?

"A 3-1 lead is good. I'll take a 3-1 lead any day in the playoffs," Columbus left wing Matt Calvert said. "It's kind of an interesting series. The team with the 3-1 lead seems to lose it. We've got to treat it like any regular-season game. Whether we're up or trailing, we have to keep fighting."

Even though the Penguins have twice victimized the Blue Jackets, including overcoming a two-goal deficit in Game 3 on Monday by scoring three times in the third period, they sense no lead is safe.

"It's an emotional series," Penguins center Joe Vitale said. "There's going to be shifts throughout. You've just got to hang with it, stay even keel and not get too high or low.

"It's kind of a fun thing, because whether you're up 3-1 or down 3-1, you know you're never out of the game. It's definitely fun to the end. Hopefully we'll get the lead [Wednesday] and keep the lead."

The Blue Jackets were up 2-0 in the first 3:18 Monday but had to kill three penalties to end the first period and another at the start of the second, which hurt their momentum.

"We're a four-line team, then to take all those consecutive minors takes a lot of our players out of the game," Blue Jackets center Mark Letestu said. "We can't take undisciplined penalties. We have to be smarter."

The Penguins were scoreless on six power plays in Game 3 but did some damage to the Blue Jackets.

"Our power play did a great job getting momentum, getting shots and putting pressure on their goalie," Vitale said.

Columbus has killed 12 straight shorthanded situations the past two games but knows it is living on the edge, especially considering the Penguins have no goals in the series from forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz.

"It doesn't matter whether they've been cold or they've been hot; they're dangerous whenever they get out on the ice," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "That's the way we're approaching it."

The key could be how well Columbus contains Pittsburgh's stars. Or it might be something simpler.

"The team that figures it out first how to finish out a two-goal lead is probably going to have the better of the series," Letestu said.

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