The Penguins seemed to have Game 2, and possibly their first-round series, against the Columbus Blue Jackets locked in for a victory.
However, one rush play altered what appeared to be an assured Penguins’ victory into an eventual 4-3 defeat in double overtime Saturday night at CONSOL Energy Center that evened the series at 1-1.
The Penguins had the Columbus Blue Jackets wobbly and vulnerable. All they had to do was deliver the knockout blow.
Pittsburgh dominated the opening period. They had a 3-1 lead and outshot Columbus 15-4.
The Blue Jackets looked like a team that was starting to slowly implode. Columbus’ antics and attempts to get the Penguins off their game weren’t working. Pittsburgh ignored every extra shot and post-whistle confrontation. The result led to Columbus taking a few penalties out of frustration.
First, Brandon Dubinsky, whose attempts to take liberties on Sidney Crosby barely gained even a second look from the captain, took a slashing penalty on Craig Adams in the offensive zone after a whistle.
The Penguins’ ensuing power play scored to give the Penguins a late 3-1 lead in the first period.
Blake Comeau followed Dubinsky’s lead in the second period. He took a run at Paul Martin behind the Pittsburgh net. After the puck left the zone, Comeau held Martin’s stick and then gave him a shot with his stick just a few feet away from the referee. That altercation led to another Penguins’ power play.
The stage was set for the knockout punch. With a power-play goal Pittsburgh would have had a 4-1 lead and delivered a huge blow, maybe a series statement type of blow, to the psyche of the Blue Jackets.
Instead, it was the Blue Jackets that threw a counterpunch.
Artem Anisimov chipped the puck past the outstretched stick of James Neal. It was corralled by Matt Calvert and Columbus was off for a 3-on-1 rush. Defenseman Matt Niskanen took away the passing lanes, but Calvert snapped a shot over the shoulder of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury for a shorthanded tally that cut the Pens’ lead to 3-2.
“It hurt us. When that happens, you give them a lot of momentum,” Crosby said. “I think after that, we still had other opportunities to win the game, but knowing that we gave one up again, I don’t think it sits well with anyone.”
The goal was an injection of life and resurrected the Blue Jackets’ belief that they could go blow-for-blow with the Penguins.
“We have all the momentum, we have a great start, we give up an odd-man rush on the power play and they score,” Niskanen said. “We just got off track from there. We had spurts where we were pretty good in the third period, but for about 10 minutes after that shorthanded goal we let them back in the game.”
Columbus dominated the remainder of the second period. If it weren’t for some stellar goaltending from Fleury and a lot of bad luck, Columbus could have tied or taken the lead in the middle frame.
The tables completely turned in the third period. The Penguins took several penalties and gave Columbus ample opportunity to even the game. The Jackets finally obliged when Jack Johnson scored with 6:01 remaining in regulation.
Calvert finished off the Penguins 1:10 in the second overtime. The Blue Jackets had three cracks from point-blank range. The third time proved deadly as Calvert roofed a shot over a prone Fleury for the win.
The win is the first-ever playoff victory in the Blue Jackets' franchise history. And with it, Columbus avoided a daunting 2-0 deficit in the series and turned into a dead heat after two games.