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Endgame: Penguins 4, Blue Jackets 3

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

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Penguins Report: Game Day vs Columbus
Verizon Game Day Report
Pregame: Sidney Crosby
Pregame: Beau Bennett
Pregame: Jayson Megna
Trib Playoff Update 4/20

After surrendering an early 2-0 lead and later a 3-1 advantage to the Blue Jackets, the Penguins came back to win Game 3, 4-3, on Monday night at Nationwide Arena to take a 2-1 series lead.

Brooks Orpik, Brandon Sutter, Lee Stempniak and Jussi Jokinen all scored for the Penguins, while goalie Marc-Andre Fleury kept his team in yet another game after that atrocious start and gave them the chance to eventually take over – which they did. Commentary and analysis on the game can be found here, while the main storylines are below…

The Penguins got out to probably the worst start imaginable on Monday evening. And somehow, they were able to recover.

Instead of quieting the rabid fans at Nationwide Arena witnessing just the third home playoff game in the franchise's 14-year history early, Pittsburgh gave the crowd of 19,148 reason to absolutely lose their minds as they surrendered a 2-0 lead to the buzzing Blue Jackets within the first 3:18 of play.

Forward Boone Jenner opened the scoring just 1:38 into the game. He skated down an open lane toward Fleury, collected a rebound and wired it into the net. Defenseman Jack Johnson followed that up just 1:40 later when winger Beau Bennett lost him in coverage and he sneaked unmarked into the slot. Center Brandon Dubinsky hit Johnson with a pass that he lifted past Fleury for his third goal in as many games.

Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma opted to use his timeout after the second score to settle his team down. They knew there was a lot of time left to come back, and they proved that when they finally scored a goal of their own at the end of the second period before completely breaking the game open about five minutes into the third. 

“It was rough,” said Fleury of his team's start, who then shook his head and smiled. “Rough start, but nobody panicked. The crowd got loud, they were behind them a lot. We just stayed focused.”

After the Pens’ atrocious start, defenseman Brooks Orpik scored with just 1.8 seconds left in the second period to cut Columbus’ lead to 2-1. It could have been a deflating goal, but to be completely honest, the Blue Jackets didn’t seem all that fazed as they responded just 1:04 into the third period with a goal from Cam Atkinson to regain their two-goal lead.

However, while Orpik's goal may not have been that big of a deal to the Blue Jackets, it was to the Pens as it galvanized them and proved they could beat Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky – who'd been stellar until that point. So the Pens continued to stick with it and were rewarded 5:53 into the final 20 minutes, when center Brandon Sutter deflected a Paul Martin shot past Bobrovsky to start chipping at Columbus’ lead again.

From there, the Penguins completely overwhelmed the Blue Jackets and made their youth and inexperience show, as that was the first of three goals they’d score in a 2:13 span. Winger Lee Stempniak, acquired by the Pens at the trade deadline from Calgary, was next, netting his first career playoff goal to tie the score at 3-3 after a pretty pass from Chris Kunitz sprung him into an open seam that he took full advantage of.

“That felt really good, first playoff goal,” the normally serious Stempniak allowed, with a big smile on his face. “It’s been a long time between playoff series for me. So it’s nice to get one and chip in and help out.”

Forward Jussi Jokinen finished it off when he deflected an Olli Maatta point shot from the side of the net past Bobrovsky to give the Penguins a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The Pens absolutely dominated the Jackets in the third period as a whole, keeping possession of the puck, creating extended shifts in the offensive zone and doing a tremendous job of distributing back to the points and letting plays develop from there.

“I think we really just stuck with it,” Stempniak said. “Despite the start, I thought this was our best game of the three so far. We were able to get pucks in, generate a forecheck, and we really got pucks and bodies to the net. We got a couple goals off tips and re-directs, and really just being around the front of the net. It’s a great way to win the game.”

If somebody said they picked stay-at-home, shutdown defenseman Brooks Orpik – who has 13 total tallies in 703 career regular-season games – to score Pittsburgh’s first goal of the game, they were probably lying. But he did. On a spin-o-rama toe drag, nonetheless, with 1.8 seconds left in the second period.

Bennett hit Orpik with a pass at the far circle, who protected the puck by spinning around Atkinson and drifting into the slot. There, Orpik toe-dragged around a diving Atkinson before firing it past Bobrovsky – who actually saw it the entire time but watched it fly past him blocker-side. The goal was big timing-wise, but more important in terms of proving that the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, who’d been excellent up to that point, was, in fact, beatable.

“I’m obviously not known (for goals),” said Orpik with a wry smile. “But the timing was good. It felt good individually and team-wise. I thought we had a lot of good looks, especially on the power play. But we couldn’t get one by (Bobrovsky). I think we just needed that one to kind of break the ice.”

Orpik must just be saving his big goals for the playoffs, as he came up with a huge tally in the Penguins’ first-round matchup last year as well – when he netted the double-overtime, series-clinching winner in Game 6 vs. the Islanders in Long Island for his first career postseason score.

“He’s been pretty hot,” joked Fleury. “He had a big goal in Long Island last year and now this one, a toe-drag in the slot. It’s good, good for him.”

Pittsburgh’s penalty kill had been struggling going into this game. It redeemed itself tonight.

The Penguins thwarted all four of Columbus' power plays, including one late in the third period when defenseman Kris Letang was called for tripping with 7:07 left in regulation and Pittsburgh holding onto a one-goal lead.

The Pens’ power play, on the other hand, could have ended up being the story of the game had Pittsburgh not come back and won. They ended up going 0-for-6 with the man-advantage and had a number of opportune chances to score big goals and get back in the game early, as three of those came in the first period after surrendering that 2-0 lead.

But although the Pens couldn’t find the back of the net with the man-advantage, the guys in the room said they were pleased with the momentum they got from it. And it was certainly markedly improved from Game 2, where they allowed a shorthanded goal in addition to going 1-for-8. Their movement was much better, as the Pens moved the puck fast and furious and got it to the cage a lot more than they did on Saturday.

“(The PK) was huge,” Maatta said. “Our PK was really good tonight. Our power play was really good, too. Gave us momentum even though we didn’t end up scoring.”

Author: Michelle Crechiolo
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