The Penguins blew a 3-0 lead and a chance to take a 3-1 series stranglehold in Wednesday’s Game 4 at Nationwide Arena, losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 in overtime.
Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was the Penguins’ best player in Game 4. The Penguins relied almost entirely on Fleury to preserve their early 3-0 first-period lead as the Blue Jackets started buzzing and taking over the game.
And he almost pulled it off. Almost.
The Penguins had a 3-2 lead with less than a minute to play when Fleury tried to play a rimmed puck behind his own net. The puck bounced over his stick and ended up in the slot. Columbus’ Brandon Dubinksy found the puck and scored to tie the game at 3-3 with just 22.5 seconds to play.
“(The dump) wasn’t that hard so I went to stop it for my D, but it bounced in front of my stick,” said Fleury, who finished with 42 saves. “It went right to (Dubinsky) in front.”
The Blue Jackets sealed the victory when Nick Foligno scored 2:49 minutes into the overtime session.
“In this game (Fleury) fielded a lot of shots in the second and stood strong, and was big for us on some of those areas we broke down and on the penalty kill,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.
Bylsma was unflinching when asked if Fleury would bounce back in Game 5 Saturday night in Pittsburgh.
“I do,” Bylsma said.
YOU KNOW WHAT THEY SAY…
You know what they say – 3-1 leads are the worst leads in hockey. At least in this series, anyway.
In each of the first four games, one of the teams got out to a 3-1 lead. And in every one of those games, the other team came back to win.
Tonight, it was the Penguins who were on the wrong side of that curse after being on the right side of it Monday. After getting out to arguably the worst start possible in Game 3 – surrendering a 2-0 lead within the first 3:18 of play – the Pens jumped out to what was probably their best start possible in Game 4, building up a 3-0 lead within the first 11:10 of play – including a pair of goals 33 seconds apart.
But thanks to a lot of power-play time in the second period (more on that below) Columbus was able to swing the momentum firmly onto their side and start chipping away at the Pens’ lead. They cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 3-2 heading into the second intermission off a pair of man-advantage goals, before Dubinsky scored with 22.5 seconds left in regulation to force overtime. Once there, Foligno netted the game-winner to give his team a 4-3 win and even the series 2-2.
It’s not that the Pens were necessarily playing not to lose once they jumped up to a 3-0 lead, as there was so much time left in the game at that point. Columbus just didn’t give up, got a ton of momentum and the crowd roaring off their numerous power plays in the second and from there, just kept coming at the Pens in waves. Columbus’ active D played a huge part in that, as they pinched in hard down the walls to pressure Pittsburgh’s forwards and keep play pinned in the offensive zone.
“In getting a 3-0 lead and having a lead for that long in the game, the mindset is not to take your foot off the gas and play D zone for the rest of the game,” Bylsma said. “I think in the second period, you saw us take four penalties – the high sticking and then the two-minute 5-on-3 – and then another penalty. So that was a big portion of them pushing forward. We gave up the one power-play goal, I thought we did a good job of limiting it in that time period, but they were coming hard at that point in time and a lot of that was eight minutes of power-play time.”
Is it any surprise that special teams was yet again the story of a game between these two teams? After the Pens’ hot start, Columbus’ power play dominated the narrative and turned the tide in their favor.
After Adams’ first-period shorthanded goal, the second period was really where the special teams took over. It all began when Lee Stempniak drew blood after high sticking a Blue Jackets forward and received a double minor as punishment with 8:07 left in the period.
Then, with 2:17 left on Stempniak’s penalty, Brandon Sutter – one of the Pens’ best penalty killing forwards – was called for delay of game after his clearing attempt sailed over the glass. That meant the Pens were tasked with two full minutes of the Blue Jackets on a 5-on-3 power play. And Columbus took advantage just 44 seconds in with a Ryan Johansen goal.
The Pens were able to kill off the rest of the remaining power-play time, but the penalty killers weren’t done there as Matt Niskanen was called for tripping with exactly two minutes left in the period. Back to the PK the Pens went.
And somehow, someway – though Columbus pressed and pressed and created chance after chance – the Pens were able to keep them off the board and escape into the intermission with their 3-2 lead intact.
But those power plays would have lasting ramifications. They gave Columbus ample opportunity to get completely back in this game and started their comeback attempt. It kept Pittsburgh’s stars on the bench for far too long during the second period and tasked Fleury and the penalty killers with an incredibly tough challenge.
“We gave them a lot of momentum and gave them the goal, too,” Fleury said. “We’ve got to stay disciplined. Their power play has been pretty good, shooting pucks, going to the net. So I think the next game we have to be more disciplined.”
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