The Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets took another strange, yet familiar twist Monday night.
For the third straight game, the team that has scored the first goal has gone on to lose the game. Additionally, the team that has led 3-1 in the game has gone on to lose the game three times.
The final score of all three games has been 4-3.
If this sounds bizarre, it absolutely is.
Teams scoring first in the post season are 12-9 heading into Tuesday night’s action. That number is thrown off slightly because of the anti-first goal bias in both Metropolitan Divisional series.
Teams scoring first in both series are a combined 0-5.
Here’s how well teams scoring first are faring in the playoffs by series:
Colorado-Minnesota – 2-1
St. Louis-Chicago – 3-0
Anaheim-Dallas – 2-1
San Jose-Los Angeles – 1-1
Boston-Detroit – 2-0
Tampa Bay-Montreal – 2-1
Pittsburgh-Columbus – 0-3
New York-Philadelphia – 0-2
Clearly, scoring first in the Western Conference is a big deal, as you would normally expect across the board.
I have no explanation for what’s going on in the Metropolitan Division.
Regardless, the Penguins once again showed some resiliency in coming back from a 3-1 deficit in the third period.
How did it get to that point?
With the Penguins trailing 2-0 and time winding down in the second period, it was Brooks Orpik that gave the team a much-needed boost.
Orpik pulled out a move that you’d expect Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin to attempt. He received a pass at the top of the circle, skated backward into the slot around a prone defender and ripped a wrist shot to the back of the net with about one second remaining.
“I’m obviously not known for that. The timing was good. It felt good individually and team-wise. For the team, I thought we had a lot of good looks, especially on the power play, but we just couldn’t get one by [Sergei Bobrovsky],” Orpik said. “I think we just needed that one to break the ice.”
Watch Dan Bylsma’s Post-Game Press Conference:
“I think regardless of who it comes from, getting that goal there right at the end of the second was really big for our team. You don’t know where you’re going to turn to to get it from, but to see Brooks Orpik get it there in the slot, toe drag and score, it was a big goal for our team,” head coach Dan Bylsma said.
The Penguins came out flying to start the third period, but Columbus would regain their two-goal cushion. After a dominant shift by Malkin’s line, Columbus stormed into the Pens’ end and a seemingly harmless backhander hit Cam Atkinson and deflected into the net.
The original shot by Brandon Dubinsky was easily going several feet wide of the net. However, the Penguins continued to stick to the game plan and blew the doors open minutes later.
A flurry of three goals in a span of 2:13 stunned both the Blue Jackets and their fans.
Goals by Brandon Sutter, Lee Stempniak and Jussi Jokinen silenced a once raucous Nationwide Arena.
“You could really see their guys get nervous, especially when we got that second one. It looked like they were playing not to lose. As soon as you see a team like that, you try to jump on them,” Orpik said.
Watch Brooks Orpik’s Post-Game Interview:
While the game ended well, it started out about as poorly as you could have scripted. Just 3:18 into the game, the Penguins found themselves down 2-0. Defensive breakdowns, some poor rebound control by Marc-Andre Fleury and an amped up Blue Jackets team resulted in the early deficit.
Immediately following the second goal, Bylsma called a timeout to settle the team. Despite the deficit, the Penguins remained confident during the timeout – including Fleury.
“I don’t think there’s much to share. I do know that whole team was in there [during the timeout] and [Fleury] was in there as well. Certainly, that’s not the start we wanted, it’s not the start we anticipated. In some ways, we needed to reset. I think [Fleury] was a part of that,” Bylsma said.
There are no indications through three games that Fleury is on the verge of a “meltdown” as NBCSN’s Pierre McGuire announced to the world following the second goal.
I’d only place a portion of the blame on him for the first two goals last night. I never like seeing a rebound off a goaltender’s chest. Goaltenders should swallow those shots with relative ease most of the time.
However, Matt Niskanen simply got beat to the loose puck by Boone Jenner on the first goal.
As for the second, Fleury should have done better with Dubinsky’s bad angle shot along the goal line from the corner. He knows that, but look how he responded.
Fleury was a rock the rest of the way, especially while under siege during a Columbus power play in the second period. Fleury made a couple nice stops and Joe Vitale hustled to block a couple shots to keep the Penguins alive. To me, that was the start of the comeback effort.
Aside from a bad bounce on the third goal against, Fleury was incredible. Those watching the NBCSN feed last night were led to believe that Fleury was intentionally putting the puck in his own net based on McGuire’s comments.
The Penguins simply responded as a team and found a way to win. It wasn’t pretty. It was frustrating to watch at times, especially during the first period.
In the end, the Penguins won and now lead the series 2-1.
“What I did like was our response in the game, our response from our [defense]. We give up two goals real quickly in this game and I thought after that point, I don’t know how many – I can’t even give you a good estimation – how many scoring chances there are after that, but there’s not going to be a ton,”Bylsma said.
Before the game I announced on Twitter that I wanted to see some effort, passion determination and heart out of the Penguins in Game 3. The Penguins showed all of the above.
It wasn’t a complete 60-minute performance, the top line, especially Crosby, need to pick up their play and the power play needs to get on track again.
However, if the team plays the way they did to claw back into Game 3, those problems will correct themselves and the Penguins should continue to have success against Columbus.
The puck drops on Game 4 Wednesday night at 7 p.m.
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