Richards praises fans’ impact on CBJ’s epic Game 4 comeback
Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) poke checks the puck from Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Matt Calvert (11) during the third period in game three of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nationwide Arena. Pittsburgh defeated Columbus 4-3.
Only an original, or at least a long-time Columbus Blue Jackets fan, can answer that question accurately. But there is one thing on which all who witnessed the Columbus comeback win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in Wednesday night’s Game 4 can agree: When the Blue Jackets decided to win the first playoff game in franchise history, they did it in absolute, unequivocal, fashion-forward, straight from the catwalks of New York, Paris, London…style.
Are you kidding me? You’re already down two games to one to the vaunted Penguins, then fall behind 3-0 barely past the midway point of the first period. And you win? That’s not how you draw it up on the locker room grease board before the game, is it coach?
"I don’t think you want to script this game going down 3-0 to the Penguins, but I don’t know if you can script a better finish," said Columbus head coach Todd Richards in his postgame press conference.
Amen to that. The waning seconds of regulation and the overtime climax were all-Hollywood. Somehow, the Blue Jackets found a way to turn a misplay behind the Pittsburgh net into the tying goal with 24 seconds left in the game, then win it in the first three minutes of overtime.
Now, all of a sudden this series that has defied all the generally acknowledged precepts of NHL hockey is anyone’s to grab. It now heads back to Pittsburgh for Saturday’s Game 5, with a guaranteed return to Nationwide Arena for Monday’s Game 6.
But let’s look back again at the epic come-from-behind win by the Blue Jackets Wednesday. You can make the argument it really didn’t start on the ice; it started in the stands.
"The crowd was great; our fans were great, because at 3-0 the way it was going, there could have been boos, but we got nothing but support from them," said Richards. "And that helped, without a question. We got one, and the fans were back into it. Not that they were completely out of it, but we needed to do something to engage our fans, and that goal helped us.
"And in the second they (Penguins) ran into some penalty problems," he continued, "and we were able to generate a lot of momentum off our power play, then obviously score a huge goal. And from that moment, you know we talk about hope, you know you’re down 3-0 against the Penguins, even 3-1 against the Penguins, but 3-2, the way the game was going, there was hope.
"And we battled all the way to the end. Sometimes in the last minute it happens, and our guys stuck with it for 60 minutes and were rewarded in the last minute."
The Blue Jackets were rewarded because they played the way they always seem to play, with that relentless, intense, do-whatever-it-takes style that has made this team so embraceable, not only by its own fans, but also by fans of the sport in general.
Take the tying goal, for instance. David Savard raced back into his own zone to retrieve a loose puck, with his net empty and Sidney Crosby in pursuit. Knowing Crosby was breathing down his neck and he was going to take a big hit, Savard stayed with the play and moved the puck up the ice, past Sid the Kid.
You know the rest. Johnson played it around and behind the Penguins net, and it hopped over Fleury’s stick onto the stick of Ryan Johansen (good forechecking job there), who sent it up the slot for the one-timer by Brandon Dubinsky into the vacated Pittsburgh goal. Game tied, Nationwide Arena goes into frenzy mode.
Then, to complete this seemingly made-for-TV movie of a game, R.J. Umberger laid out just inside his own blue line to block a shot, risking a face that had already been dinged by a deflected puck earlier in the game. Umberger then got up and flipped a pass up the left wing for Nick Foligno, who stepped across the Pittsburgh blue line and fired.
As the puck fluttered, dipped, and eluded Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, Nationwide Arena turned into a palace of unabashed passion and joy. It was breathtaking.
So, long-time Blue Jackets fans, was it worth the wait finally to see your team win a playoff game in downtown Columbus? Judging from the reaction to Foligno’s historic overtime goal — which drew not one but three cannon shots — the answer seems to have been a resounding yes.