PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins could have swept the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round. The Blue Jackets could have swept the Penguins.
Instead, their best-of-7 series is tied 2-2, which has left Penguins coach Dan Bylsma critical of Pittsburgh's effort after surrendering a three-goal lead in its 4-3 overtime loss in Game 4 Wednesday.
"I think the work and compete and battle level has probably been the most troubling thing from our team," Bylsma said at his Thursday press conference. "In Game 3, after getting down two goals for 50, 55 minutes of that game, it wasn't perfect, but we were the desperate team. We took the game to them. Last night, we get up three goals in the game and they were the team that worked and competed and out-battled us for most of the duration of the game.
"It wasn't perfect for them, but that's been thing through this series that's been the most troubling and it's got to be raised, it's got to be up to a level that is necessary this time of year."
Through four games, each team has lost two games, ending 4-3, in which they have held multi-goal leads. But Wednesday was the first time one of the teams surrendered a lead of three goals.
Bylsma did not provide an injury or lineup update, but said if changes are made they will be aimed at making the Penguins more competitive in specific areas entering Game 5 at Consol Energy Center on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, RDS, FS-O, ROOT).
"In the game last night, we started hard, played well, got up 3-0 and they played, at that point in time, very desperate, very aggressive with their defensemen being real active and being down," Bylsma said. "That battle area of the ice is where they were better than us at. I don't think we want it to be easy at that point in time, but that's where the game was turned and that's where the game was eventually won at, and that's the facts and that's what our team has to get back to."
Forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each have four assists through four games, but have not scored a goal. Crosby has not scored in his last nine Stanley Cup Playoff games dating back to Pittsburgh's 7-3 win in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Ottawa Senators last spring.
But Bylsma thinks the Penguins' struggles can be attributed to the entire team and not just its two primary stars.
"They're our best players. We need more from our whole team," Bylsma said. "We need more from them. But again, it's our compete level. It's our puck battles. It's our willingness to play in those areas and come underneath and support and make it a tough game, and our whole team has to be better at that regard."
The teams have traded momentum, now belonging to Columbus, throughout the series. It is Pittsburgh's turn to respond to a second late-game collapse and Bylsma realizes a difficult task lies ahead.
"We talked about it, we expect it to be tough. We expect this to be a tough series," Bylsma said. "We see that in other series in other years, that the first round is the toughest round, and we are in that right now. It's been tough. It's a tough series.
"It’s 2-2 now, it's best-of-3 and we're in a battle."