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Analysis: Penguins' Experience the Difference in Win

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Finally experience, which heavily favored Pittsburgh, played its part in the Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets' opening-round Stanley Cup playoff series.

There are many reasons the Penguins were able to overcome a 3-1 third-period deficit and finished with a 4-3 win in Game 3 to give them a 2-1 series lead Monday night at Nationwide Arena.

  • The Penguins' offense exploded for three goals in a 2:13-second span.
  • Pittsburgh had contributions from throughout the lineup.
  • Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury made several key saves, including some spectacular stops, to keep the Penguins in the game.
  • Pittsburgh’s penalty-killing unit came up with a clutch 4-for-4 performance.

But the underlying reason that Pittsburgh won this game was because of its vast edge in experience against the novice Blue Jackets – which stood at 1,154 career playoff games and 11 Stanley Cup titles for Pittsburgh to 251 playoff games and one Cup for Columbus before the start of the series.

Despite the unenviable circumstances, the Penguins never panicked against the Blue Jackets.

Pittsburgh didn’t panic when Columbus’ Boone Jenner scored just 98 seconds after opening puck drop.

Pittsburgh didn’t panic when Jack Johnson tallied 1:40 later to give the Blue Jackets a 2-0 lead before the game was even four minutes old and the crowd (and cannon) unleashed a cacophony of triumphant shrills.

Pittsburgh didn’t panic when an unlucky bounce off Cam Atkinson ended up in their net to give Columbus a 3-1 lead 1:04 into the third period.

“We didn’t have the start we wanted. They got a couple of quick ones. The crowd really got going,” defenseman Brooks Oprik said. “I thought we responded really well to it. We didn’t panic at all. We came right back with a couple good shifts 5-on-5 right after that, drew a lot of penalties with our speed. I thought our composure was great.”

Ironically, the Blue Jackets’ third goal in the third period may have been their ultimate undoing. With a 3-1 lead, Columbus played a conservative, defensive posture to protect the lead.

But the Penguins kept coming…

And coming…

And coming…

And the Blue Jackets panicked.

“Anytime you see a young team get a little bit nervous it’s pretty evident,” Orpik said. “They start throwing pucks away, start retreating, giving up the neutral zone. You saw how good they were in the neutral zone in the first couple of periods and then in the third period it was a different story, just because of nerves.”

And then the goals came. A torrid three-goal, 2:13-minute stretch that completely flipped the script.

Brandon Sutter scored off a tip play in front of the net to make it 3-2.

One-minute, 10-seconds later, Lee Stempniak sniped a shot into the top corner off a 2-on-1 rush to tie the game at 3-3.

One-minute, 3-seconds after that, Jussi Jokinen tipped a shot from Olli Maatta through a nice screen from James Neal and Pittsburgh emerged with a 4-3 lead.

"We just need that one to break the ice,” Orpik said. “You could see their guys get nervous, especially when we got that second one. It looked like they were playing not to lose. As soon as you see a team like that you try to jump on them.”

The Penguins smelled blood. And they feasted.

The discrepancy in play was most evident in the third period. The Penguins not only outscored Columbus, 3-1, but also outshot them, 15-5. In fact, after the Blue Jackets’ first shot of the third period – Atkinson’s goal – they didn’t registered another shot again until there was just 7:54 left in the game. During that shot-less span the Penguins scored three goals and registered 12 shots.

“We end up coming back in the third with a desperate third,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “Even coming back from them scoring the third goal to be down 3-1. I thought we kept at it. We had that desperation right from 45, 50 minutes in this hockey game right through.”

The Penguins didn’t alter their game throughout the course of the game. They just waited, and waited. Their composure and patience paid off as Columbus cracked under the pressure of holding the lead.

“When you’re younger you don’t think experience really matters that much,” Orpik said. “I think young legs and young energy definitely helps in certain situations, but the experience card trumps that.”

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