Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (72) makes a save against Pittsburgh Penguins center Brandon Sutter (16) as center Mark Letestu (55) defends during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center.
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports
PITTSBURGH — Blue Jackets center Mark Letestu knows a bit about pressure, having been on the Penguins roster for parts of three seasons. He’s seen the pressure and expectations foisted upon the Penguins by the Pittsburgh media and fan base.
He also knows that outside of Columbus, there is no external pressure being applied to the Blue Jackets. The only pressure and expectations that they have are the ones that they apply to themselves.
"I think we still feel pressure in here," Letestu said. "It might not be the external pressure that other teams feel. But we put that pressure on ourselves to win the Stanley Cup from the start of the year. We’ve talked about it, down the stretch when we lost some games, was the pressure of being in the playoffs getting to us?
"We feel it in here. It’s the pressure we put on each other to be good. I think that’s what helped us to be more than competitive. We’ve got a real legitimate shot at winning the series. And if you beat a team like Pittsburgh, where do you go from there?
"What you see now, in this room, is the hope and belief growing. We’ve still got work to do and two big wins to get. That’s always been our expectation and good things start with high expectations. We’re trying to go special places. This isn’t a ‘one-off’ thing."
One area Columbus has excelled in has been in winning faceoffs, earning possession 57 percent of the time through the first four games of this series. Letestu’s faceoff winning percentage is north of 70 percent through Game 4. It’s not something that has garnered special attention. It’s just something they work on at each practice.
"I think what you’re seeing is, over a series, you see the same four centermen," said Letestu, "over and over and over. So, you can kind of make adjustments to each guy, whereas in the regular season you’re seeing different guys every night. In a series, it becomes more of a chess match between guys.
"We’ve been a good faceoff team all year. Whether it’s Ryan (Johansen), who’s strong and digs in, or Arty (Anisimov) and myself, who are more ‘speed’ guys. We’ve been a good team all year and we’re getting the better of them right now. 15 to 25 seconds of possession time to start each shift can be frustrating for a team that wants the puck."
Although the Penguins have had fast starts and have taken the body at certain points in the series, the Blue Jackets are expecting the toughest push back from Pittsburgh to date. Head coach Dan Bylsma called out his team in the media after the Game 4 loss on Wednesday in Columbus.
"We’ve talked about it," Letestu said. "We know this is going to be the best start of this series for them. Especially considering coming off the Game 4 loss, what their coach said, we expect them to be as good as they’ve been to start the game. They’re going to come fast. They’re going to come hard.
"In our situation, we shouldn’t get on our heels. Expect it and push back. I think if we get a good start, we can take the building (fans) out of it early, maybe put some doubt in their minds. It’s important for us to get off the blocks quick and push back, not let them dictate the play early on."
Game 5 promises to be a physical affair between a desperate team seeking answers and an underdog team that has an air of danger about it. Will true desperation take hold in Pittsburgh? Will the underdog Blue Jackets bite their way to a first round series win? This is far from decided after four games.