The Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets are tied at 2-2 in their opening round series following the Jackets 4-3 overtime victory Wednesday night at Nationwide Arena.
The Penguins did not practice Thursday, but head coach Dan Bylsma did address the media at CONSOL Energy Center. Here are a few notables from his media session…
The Pens two superstar centers, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, have combined for 0 goals and eight assists during the opening round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Crosby has been held goal-less in his last nine playoff games dating back to last year, while Malkin hasn’t scored in his past eight.
While Bylsma wants more production from his two on-ice leaders, he also expects his entire team to play better as well.
“(Crosby and Malkin) are our best players,” Bylsma said. “We need more from our whole team. We need more from them.”
And Bylsma also addressed the rumor that Crosby is playing with an injury.
“He’s like everyone else, healthy and ready to go,” Bylsma said.
It’s fitting that the Penguins and Blue Jackets series is tied at 2-2 because the series has really been that close. The Penguins were 22.5 seconds away from a Game 4 win and a 3-1 stranglehold on the series. However, the Blue Jackets were a 2:13-minute, three-goal implosion in Game 3 away from holding a 3-1 series lead of their own.
Through it all, Bylsma pointed out one area that the Penguins have been badly outplayed.
“The work, compete and battle level has been the most troubling thing from our team,” Bylsma said. “That’s been the thing throughout this series that’s been the most troubling. That’s got to be raised up to a level that is necessary at this time of year, this type of hockey, playoff hockey. We have ourselves in a series now. It’s 2-2, best-of-three. We have to have that in our game and in our team if we are going to win this series.”
Entering the postseason the biggest question was how goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury would play following his performances in the last two postseasons – including last year when he was benched after four games.
Fleury has responded by being the team’s most consistent and valuable player in their series against the Blue Jackets. And he came just 22.5 seconds away from stealing Game 4 and giving the Penguins a 3-1 series lead.
However, he came 22.5 seconds short. Brandon Dubinsky scored in those waning seconds of the third period to tie the game at 3-3 and the Blue Jackets won the game in overtime.
“He was our best player in the (Game 4) last night. Unfortunately a mistake, the bouncing puck behind the net, cost us in the last 30 seconds of the game,” Bylsma said. “He was our best player in the game. He has to rebound now from that, as does our team.”
On Dubinksy’s tying goal, Fleury left his crease to play a dumped puck behind the net. The puck hit a partition in the glass and bounced over his stick. The Blue Jackets got the puck to Dubinsky in the slot, who buried a shot into a vacant net.
Bylsma did not agree with his goaltender’s thinking on the play.
“Given the time of the game, the play is to stay in the net and not go out and attempt a play on the puck,” Bylsma said. “Marc knows he should have stayed in the net. I think they would have touched it first anyway, but he should have stayed in the net.”
As usual in the playoffs, Bylsma would not reveal anything changes to team may make to their lineup for Game 5.
The team that wins Game 5 will take a 3-2 lead and push the other team to the brink of elimination. The game is pivotal for Pittsburgh. The Penguins do not want to head to Game 6 in Columbus with their season on the line.
“We expected this to be a tough series. The first round is the toughest round,” Bylsma said. “We’re in that right now. It’s been tough. It’s 2-2 now, best-of-three. We’re in a tough battle right now. The good thing is we have it in front of us. Two wins in front of us as a group, as a team. We can go out there and win this series and move on. But we know it’s going to be tough.”