After dropping the first game of the series to the Pittsburgh Penguins earlier in the week, the Columbus Blue Jackets had high hopes of bouncing back on Friday night to even the series up at a game apiece. Unfortunately for the CBJ, the lackluster offense of the final couple weeks of the regular season has continued to disappoint thus far in the postseason.
Despite getting a total of 40 shots on net, the Jackets were held to only one goal on Friday night. The Pens did a great job on defense in front of goaltender Marc Andre Fleury as well, so that total could have very well been higher. Fleury, however, never seemed flustered. He didn’t really have any highlight-reel saves, but he handled nearly every puck that found its way to him and did a nice job controlling rebounds all night.
Just like Game 1, the Penguins got on the board first. A minute or two prior to the half-way point of the first period, Sergei Bobrovsky misplayed the puck behind his own net. The turnover led to Sidney Crosby getting the puck all alone on the doorstep to knock it into the back of the net to put the home team up 1-0. Penguins fans are very familiar with goaltender gaffes leading to opposition goals, but this time it was their team that was the beneficiary of the mistake.
There was only one puck all night that Fleury wasn’t able to stop, and it came off the stick of Brandon Saad. The Pittsburgh native ripped a shot off rather than passing the puck and was rewarded with the equalizing goal seven minutes into the second period.
Less than a minute later, the Penguins took the lead again on a Jake Guentzel goal. Towards the end of the second period, the Jackets gained momentum as they got a few decent scoring chances, but Fleury turned them all aside. After the horn blew to end the period there was a little pushing and shoving that ultimately ended with a Brandon Dubinsky roughing penalty. Instead of going into the intermission with a little momentum, the Jackets went in upset at the call knowing they were going to begin the third period shorthanded.
The penalty kill to start the third period was effective. Just when it looked like they successfully killed off the penalty, the Pens once again squashed the shifting momentum. One second after the Pittsburgh power play expired, Evgeni Malkin beat Bobrovsky to give the Penguins a 3-1 lead. The Pens would hold that lead and add an empty netter at the end to push the final score to 4-1.
The Penguins only lost 10 games at home during the regular season, so the Jackets are hardly the first team to struggle at PPG Paints Arena. What’s apparent early on this series is that the offense needs to get going. LIKE RIGHT NOW. They were inconsistent at the end of the regular season, and although there have been some glimpses the last few games, that’s not going to be enough to beat the high-scoring Penguins.
Besides the mishandled puck behind his net that led to a goal, Bobrovsky played pretty well. He made several tremendous saves to keep the Pens off the board, so it could have been worse than the final score indicates. Bob is going to take some of the blame for the quick 0-2 deficit in the series, but the offensive play by the CBJ has put him in a difficult spot.
If there’s any bright side to the series at this point, it’s that the Jackets haven’t yet dropped the puck at Nationwide Arena. In front of the home crowd, Columbus might get a little boost to get things back on track. It’s not a best-of-three. It’s a seven-game series, and it’s not too late for the CBJ to get back in it. They’ll get their chance on Easter Sunday at NWA.