PITTSBURGH — Ahead of Game 5 tonight at Consol Energy Center, the Blue Jackets are expecting to see some pushback as the Penguins look to assert themselves in their barn. Columbus is relaxed, yet focused, as they get set to face a desperate team in Pittsburgh.
"It’s a 2-2 series," said Columbus head coach Todd Richards, "and this game is the next most important game. I expect them to come out hard, regardless of what they are saying. You can see that there’s some desperation (in Pittsburgh) that’s been created."
Weathering the storm is crucial for the Blue Jackets, as they look to win a second consecutive game in Pittsburgh and take their first lead of the series.
"We’ve got to be ready for their start. The way they came out in Game 2 was really fast. We’ve got to be ready for something similar to that, if not more."
A big boost for Columbus is getting defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Ryan Murray back into the lineup. This adds a veteran presence and poise on the blue line. Nick Schultz and Dalton Prout will be the healthy scratches, defensively.
"Tyutin’s an experienced guy," said Richards. "The one thing somebody asked me is it must be nice to have all these decisions (roster depth). It is nice. (When) guys go into the lineup, guys have to come out of the lineup. Coming off the last game at home, a big emotional win, guys like Nick Schultz and Dalton Prout will be out of the lineup because those other two are going in, they did a really good job for us."
Besides the expected pushback, the Blue Jackets should expect physical play, at least initially, from the Penguins. Unlike Columbus, Pittsburgh has yet to be able to sustain that physicality throughout an entire game. Absorbing the pushback and upsetting their timing through physical play could be the turning point for the Blue Jackets in the series.
The Penguins are a desperate team in that the expectations foisted upon them by the media and their fan base saw them looking past Columbus to the later rounds of play. The Blue Jackets are relishing the underdog role.
"I believe that underdogs always have a little bit of that edge," Richards said. "I’m talking about a lack of pressure or not as much pressure.
"There’s pressure on our guys. It’s not that we’re just carefree. I think our guys expect to win. We expect certain things. Some of that is built up throughout the season in our attitude. It’s not a bad role to be in, the underdog role, being a young team."
According to Richards, there will be no changes to the forward lines ahead of the game.
The series has been a wild ride, full of physical play, where the only certainty is that no lead is safe. Might that change tonight when the puck drops at 7 p.m.? There’s only one way to find out and that’s why they play the game.