Pens go flat, Blue Jackets take advantage
PITTSBURGH – It was sometime around the middle of the second period Saturday night — long before the game would be decided — when the Columbus Blue Jackets started playing a little faster, controlling the puck a little longer, getting to more loose pucks.
The Pittsburgh Penguins led, both Game 2 and the series, but started going flat.
And stayed flat.
It didn’t end until 1:10 into the second overtime, but the Blue Jackets have the franchise’s first playoff win and the Pittsburgh Penguins have an issue. This is very much going to be a series, and the Blue Jackets seem to have both the momentum and the more lively legs.
Matt Calvert’s second goal of the night was the winner as the Blue Jackets won 4-3 and evened this first-round Stanley Cup playoffs series at a game apiece. Calvert’s first goal came in a shorthanded situation 7:31 into the second period, cutting the Blue Jackets deficit to 3-2.
It was about that time that everything changed.
"You could feel it on the bench," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "From that point on, we were really strong."
The Penguins outshot the Blue Jackets in the first period, 15-4.
The Blue Jackets outshot the Penguins for the game, 45-42.
Maybe the Blue Jackets just had to settle in. Maybe the Penguins got a little lazy after scoring twice in the game’s first 4:24 and building a 3-1 lead by the end of the first. The first two goals were scored by rookie Brian Gibbons, who then left with an injury.
Gibbons is an undrafted, undersized ball of energy. He was limited to just 2:26, and the Penguins certainly missed him. A team with known commodities such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should be fine without him, but the Penguins clearly weren’t.
Early, the Penguins were able to get out and attack. In a reversal of fortunes from Game 1, when the Blue Jackets blew a 3-1 lead, the visitors were certainly the aggressors in Game 2’s most crucial moments.
"They were playing on a different level than we were in the first," Richards said.
Said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma: "(The first) was one of our better periods, and then it flipped."
The Penguins went up 3-1 on a power-play goal by Matt Niskanen with 2:08 left in the first as Niskanen fired one to the top shelf from the point, not far from where he’d fired on what became the game’s first goal off a Gibbons deflection.
Pittsburgh had the NHL’s No. 1 ranked power play unit during the regular season. That continuing in the postseason was the worst nightmare for Blue Jackets.
Past Saturday night’s first period, though, the Blue Jackets clamped the Pittsburgh power play as the Penguins finished 1-of-9, including two empty overtime chances.
"It was a tale of two periods in that after our power play didn’t score in the second period, it turned the tide for a good 14 minutes or so," Bylsma said.
The Penguins had 13 giveaways, won just 3-of-14 faceoffs when on the power play and spent too much time watching goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury under fire from the Blue Jackets. After an almost 20-minute stretch of putting the puck on goal everywhere but the back of the net, Jack Johnson tied the game with a little over six minutes left in regulation.
"Until the last two games," Bylsma said, "our defense hasn’t been an issue."
Now, both teams try to catch their collective breath and fix their issues on a short turnaround. The Blue Jackets have stolen momentum and home-ice advantage, and what was the league’s best power play now needs a quick fix.
The Penguins have taken their share of punches through two games. They’d be wise not to wait too much longer to start punching back.
"They got back in it with the power play," Bylsma said. "Then us not being able to capitlize with the power play, that’s a huge factor.
"Three special teams goals for them tonight is certainly the difference in this game."
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