Game 4 of the First Round Stanley Cup playoff series continued in Columbus’ Nationwide Arena, where the Pittsburgh Penguins, winners of the Metropolitan Division and the number 2 overall seed in the Eastern Conference against the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets, who garnered the Eastern Conference’s first wild-card slot and seventh overall finish, with the Penguins sporting a narrow 2-1 lead in the series, which each result ending in a 4-3 victory for the respective victorious team.
Ironically, the losing team in each instance sported a 3-1 lead only to surrender three consecutive goals to lose the game. The Pens (Penguins) narrowly escaped Game 1, winning on a goal by Brandon Sutter with 10:38 remaining in the third period, sneaking under the right armpit of Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky after the Blue Jackets surged to a 3-1 lead early in the second period.
However, the Blue Jackets rebounded with a stunning 4-3 Double Overtime victory on a goal by Matt Calvert, who buried his own rebound after hovering around the net and roofing a shot over Pens goalie Marc Andre-Fleury. The victory, the Blue Jackets organization’s first ever playoff game victory, ignited the team and set up their Game 3 matchup in the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena.
In Game 3, the Blue Jackets stormed out to a 2-0 lead in the first 3:16 of the first period, extended the lead to 3-1 early in the third period only to surrender a flurry of three goals in a span of 2:13 to take a 4-3 lead and hang onto that lead to preserve the victory by that margin.
The Penguins continue to be frustrated in the first three games of the series as the Blue Jackets heavy fore-checking and physical play has forced the Pens to abandon their free-wheeling style of play led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. And while Crosby and Malkin have yet to be a factor, in Game 3, the Penguins tallied their goals by their supporting cast, primarily caused by the Blue Jackets’ blueline inability to box-out the Penguins’ forwards occupying the net area.
The stage was now set for another raucous, sellout crowd of 18,970 at Nationwide Arena.
This time, it was the Penguins bursting out to the 3-1 lead, actually 3-0, on goals from Craig Adams, Chris Kunitz and James Neal, the latter two being scored within 33 seconds of each other.
And, as fate would have it, the team sporting the 3-1 lead, this time the Penguins, would eventually relinquish it as they allowed the Blue Jackets to creep back into the game. The Blue Jackets scored on a goal by Boone Jenner late in the first period and followed it up with a Power Play goal, on a five-on-three advantage, by Ryan Johansen and they entered the third period with life and as Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards said, with hope.
While the Blue Jackets pulled goalie Sergei Bobrovsky with just over one minute to play in the game, and while it looked a bit dire, the Blue Jackets and their fans erupted when, with 0:22 left to play, Marc Andre Fleury was caught out of his net and Brandon Dubinsky made him pay and buried the game-tying goal to force it into overtime.
In overtime, Nick Foligno launched a slap shot just inside the Penguins defensive zone, easily beating an unscreened Fleury, causing the throng at Nationwide Arena to explode with thunderous cheering and the Blue Jackets evened the series at 2 games, apiece and ironically as in the previous 3 games, with a final score of 4-3.
In a role reversal of Game 3, the Blue Jackets out-shot the Penguins in Game 4, 46-25, when in Game 3, the Penguins out-shot the Blue Jackets, 41-20. Most interesting in the SOG department, the Blue Jackets out-shot the Penguins for periods 2-3 and into Overtime, 32-14.
While the Blue Jackets have proven that they can compete with the Penguins, the Penguins are in a bit of a state of disbelief, searching for answers with their game plan, how their star players have been stymied by the Blue Jackets tight, fore-checking style and now, although he’s been the anchor for the Penguins thus far, the disastrous finish by Fleury, causing the echoes and ghosts of the past two Stanley Cup playoffs past to reemerge.
So, as Todd Richards stated in his post-game press conference, it’s now a three-game series with two games slated at Consol Energy Center and one at Nationwide Arena with both teams splitting the series with a home and road victory, apiece.
Game 5 is slated for Saturday at Consol Energy Center at 7 P.M. and, if Games 1-4 are any indication, as they say, it’s “Game On.”