Game 3 of the 1st Round Stanley Cup playoff series pitted the talented 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 1st wild-card slot and 7th overall finish, with the series tied at one game apiece.
The Pens (Penguins) narrowly escaped Game 1, winning on a goal by Brandon Sutter with 10:38 remaining in the 3rd 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 2nd 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.
The Penguins were clearly frustrated in the first two 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. This style has historically flustered the Pens as it’s a blueprint employed previously by the Boston Bruins in last season’s Eastern Conference final and currently by the Philadelphia Flyers.
The stage was now set for what was as advertised, a raucous, record sellout crowd of 19,148 at Nationwide Arena.
The Blue Jackets, like their fans who, for the first time in a long time, primarily occupied the sellout crowd at Nationwide Arena, came out swinging with 2 goals in the first 3:16 of the first period with Boone Jenner and Jack Johnson netting goals for the Blue Jackets. The rest of the first period was a barrage of shots by the Penguins, something that continued well into the middle of the second period. Overall, it was a battle of the Blue Jackets guile and grit against the agitated Penguins.
With 1.8 seconds left in the second period, the Penguins scored on a failed clearing attempt by the Blue Jackets and Brooks Orpik blasted a slap shot past Bobrovsky to get the Penguins on the board as the period came to a close.
At the 1:04 of the third period, Cam Atkinson scored off of a deflection from a Brandon Dubinsky backhand attempt to put the Blue Jackets up, 3-1. Within the span of a few minutes, the Penguins scored a flurry of three goals in a span of 2:13 to take a 4-3 lead. With Brandon Sutter scoring the Pen’s second goal on a tip-in of a Paul Martin shot, followed by two deflected goals by Lee Stempniak and Olli Maataa, the fourth goal deflecting off of Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski.
But, goal deflections aside, the Penguins responded after being down 3-1, something that both teams came back from in the first two games of the series. They posted a 13-1 Shots on Goal (SOG) advantage in the first 11:38 of the third period, perhaps a wake-up call for the previously slumbering Pens.
With 1:00 left in the third period, the Blue Jackets pulled Bobrovsky, leaving the net empty with the purpose of putting on an extra offensive attacker. However, furious attempts in the waning seconds proved to be unsuccessful and the Penguins preserved their victory, 4-3. And, as was true to form for all three games thus far in the series, posting a 3-1 lead proved to be a ‘kiss of death’ for the respective team with that lead, for the Blue Jackets in both games 1 and 3 and for the Penguins in game 2.
The Penguins out-shot the Blue Jackets in this game, 41 Shots on Goal (SOGs) to 20, primarily aided by drawing the Blue Jackets into four consecutive penalties during the first and into the second period.
For the Penguins, they found a way to will a victory and go up in the series, two games to one and did so without the aid of their superstars Crosby, Malkin, Chris Kunitz and James Neal. For the upstart Blue Jackets, while it was a disappointing loss, the National Hockey League’s (NHL’s) 2nd youngest team can take away valuable Stanley Cup playoff experience and rebound from this loss. And, as was the case in the previous two playoff contests, the Blue Jackets did a remarkable job in containing the Penguins elite forwards.
Game 4 is slated for Wednesday at 7 P.M. in Nationwide Arena and if Game 3 is any indication, it should make for an electric and memorable atmosphere for both teams and their followers.