Columbus Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky (17) carries the puck ahead f Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) during the first period in game five of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center.
Pittsburgh, PA — They knew going into Game Five in Pittsburgh that they would have to win two games in a row, at some point, to win the series. After not responding to the Penguins stepping up their game, they find their backs against the wall coming home to the friendly confines.
This club has responded to adversity throughout the season. Now, you don’t get much more adverse than facing an elimination game. With the Penguins leading the series 3-2, Columbus knows it is do-or-die time for them.
"When your back is against the wall, you’re going to be desperate," said center Brandon Dubinsky. "We have to come out and have a desperate Game Six. That doesn’t mean trying to go out and chase the game."
"We’ve just got to get back to our game and what makes our team successful. When we do that, we’re a great hockey team and a tough team to beat. I anticipate that we’ll be ready, get back to our game plan and play the way we’re capable of playing."
The first period was a tight-checking, physical twenty minutes of hockey, with Boone Jenner scoring his third goal in five playoff games. Even though the Penguins out-hit Columbus in the first 18-15, they didn’t seem worried about getting away from their game.
"They definitely came out harder," RJ Umberger said. "Their coach questioned their work-ethic. We knew they were going to compete hard. It was up to us to match it and raise our game more. We did, at times. But, tonight they were the better team."
Columbus got away from their hard-nosed game in the second period, although they managed to stay in close proximity to the Penguins on the scoreboard. That, in and of itself, is quite a feat, considering that Sergei Bobrovsky faced 51 shots. The Blue Jackets had less than half of that total, ending the game with 24 shots on Marc-Andre Fleury.
"What we didn’t do tonight, we didn’t get enough cycle-time going or enough offense going," said Umberger. "We didn’t sustain anything to give our (defensemen) a break. The ice was tilted pretty much for most of the game. That was tough on our goalie."
Being unable to dump-and-chase goes against the ethos of "Blue Jackets hockey". After Chris Kunitz scored for the Penguins in the second period to tie the game, all of the momentum swung Pittsburgh’s way. They were positively buzzing through the Blue Jackets, who could do little to stop them.
The Penguins were the hungrier team on this balmy Saturday night where the three rivers meet. Neither Sergei Bobrovsky nor Marc-Andre Fleury has been stellar in net. They’ve made some great saves, but not consistently. If Columbus wants to advance, they need Bobrovsky to "steal" a game for them.
"They played well and made good decisions with the puck," said defenseman Ryan Murray. "It didn’t go our way tonight. We had a few opportunities."
They were expecting the Penguins to come out and play a physical game. I asked Murray if they were surprised by the intensity that Pittsburgh showed tonight throughout the game.
"I don’t think we were really surprised by it," he said. "They know how physical we are and we knew they were going to answer it at some point. They got their hits in on us (34 total)."
Murray knows the importance of Monday night’s game in Columbus, as well as the other players in the room do. They were disappointed after tonight’s loss, for sure. But there was also a bit of anger in their eyes. Anger at knowing they can beat the Penguins and didn’t on this night.
"Everything is on the line," Murray said, "everything we’ve done all year since September. When you think of all the hard work we’ve put in, where we’ve come from as a team… that’s what it’s all about, right there."
"It all comes down to one game in our building. We’ve got to defend Nationwide (Arena). And that’s what we’re going to do. I’m sure we’re going to have our best game."
Maybe this team is just young enough to believe they can pull it off and upset the Penguins. It doesn’t matter if you or I believe it can be done. What matters, is that they believe.