The holiday break lasted about 20 minutes longer for the Pittsburgh Penguins than the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets scored a pair of first period goals while the listless Penguins stumbled. However, the Penguins found their stride in the second period, overcame three two-goal deficits to force overtime, and won in the shootout, 5-4.
Evgeni Malkin scored one third period goal and set up another to propel the Penguins to the comeback win.
“It was a real character win. It was the most resilient this group has been all year long,” said head coach Mike Sullivan.
In fact, the Penguins thought they won the game moments into overtime. Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin was alone in front, but couldn’t finish the chance. Sidney Crosby did. However, a review from Toronto ruled Dumoulin interfered with Bobrovsky (what is a catch?!). The goal was waived off.
“He was tangled up with me. I did everything I could to get out of the situation,” said Dumoulin. Stick tap to Jonathan Bombulie of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review who asked Dumoulin, a Patriots fan, what he thought of replay now. The question justifiably drew a chuckle from Dumoulin, too.
The Penguins found energy and purpose in the second period. Forward Bryan Rust won a puck battle along the board in the defensive zone, pushed it ahead to Conor Sheary, and joined the rush. Rust also took a pair of Blue Jackets defenders to the net, which gave Sheary a clear shot. He squeaked a shot under Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s blocker.
The start doomed the Penguins. Almost. The first period was a continuation of the absentee wandering which plagued the Penguins final game before the holiday break, against Anaheim.
The Blue Jackets took advantage of flat-footed Penguins defenders, midway through the first period. Seth Jones shot was wide of the net, but it caromed to Sonny Milano. Newly acquired defenseman Jamie Oleksiak was in the area, but not covering Milano, or the net. Milano buried it into the empty net. 1-0.
Later in the first period, Boone Jenner was left alone by Evgeni Malkin. The Blue Jackets rush became a 3-on-2. Jenner had a clear path the Murray and beat the Penguins goalie to the short side. 2-0.
Then the Blue Jackets quelled the Penguins momentum late in the second period.
Maligned Penguins third center Riley Sheahan’s cross-ice pass for Matt Hunwick instead was on the tape of Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert. The Blue Jackets quickly transitioned for a two-on-one. The “Breadman” Artemi Panari unleashed an unstoppable wrist shot from the slot past Murray. 3-1.
A sloppy power-play nonetheless yielded results for the Penguins, early in the third period. Nick Foligno missed an excellent shorthanded scoring chance. The Penguins quickly transitioned, and Phil Kessel finished the rush with his trademark one-footed wrist shot past Bobrovsky. 3-2.
Murray and defenseman Matt Hunwick were the goats on the Blue Jackets fourth goal. After Hunwick pinched in the neutral zone to give the Blue Jackets a two-on-one, Murray failed to hold the shot by Josh Anderson. Panarin poked the loose puck past Murray. 4-2.
The Penguins continued to gain momentum throughout the game. Columbus could not hold the final lead.
With six minutes remaining, Malkin collected the garbage in the crease for a power-play goal. Another hard Kessel wrist shot trickled through Bobrovsky. Malkin tapped it across the goal line. 4-3.
With just over a minute remaining, Malkin set up the game-tying goal. He circled the Blue Jackets net, put a pass on the tape of Patric Hornqvist in the crease. Hornqvist slid a pass across the crease to a wide-open Guentzel. 4-4.
Ian Cole was also wide open in the slot. I asked Cole about the play– “I gave (Hornqvist) some crap for not giving it to me, for giving it to Guentzel. Like (Guentzel) needs more goals.”
“2-on-0 net front. He chose to give it Guentzel. Probably a surer bet, but I could have used one.”
That was Guentzel’s first goal in nine games. He certainly didn’t mind Hornqvist’s choice. The mood in the locker room was justifiably upbeat. The Penguins were left for dead after the first period and fans were left to hope for a midnight shakeup.
Instead, the Penguins showed glimpses of their Stanley Cup prowess.
Postgame Analysis and Press Box Nachos
–The Blue Jackets forecheck was suffocating in the first period and into the second period. The Penguins defense lacked time and space, which stifled the Penguins offense.
Clearly, CBJ recognized the Penguins depleted defense was missing both Kris Letang, who was out with a lower body injury, and Justin Schultz, so they forced the Penguins to earn every breakout.
Not until the second period, when the Penguins forwards tilted the ice, could the Penguins blue line breathe.
In fact, that is how the Penguins won the 2017 Stanley Cup–forwards keeping the puck, and thus the opposition away from their blue line.
Gutsy win, even if it was the Penguins fault, they trailed by two, three times.
—Ian Cole played an A game. He was aggressive in the offensive zone and physical. He moved the puck with purpose and won puck battles in the defensive zone.
Perhaps I’m preaching to the choir, but give the man a sweater. He was on the ice for the first two Blue Jackets goals, but neither goal could be attributed to him or his man.
—Matt Hunwick. Was not credited with any giveaways, however, made a few poor decisions with the puck and away from the play. Included in the rough night was the ill-advised pinch on the Blue Jackets 4th goal.
He also tried to pinch on the Blue Jackets third goal, but Matt Calvert controlled the lane. There wasn’t a pinch opportunity. In fact, by heading towards the net, he led Riley Sheahan into a terrible giveaway.
–Yes, Matt Murray gave up a softy, as the fourth goal. However, none of the other goals were remotely on the goalie.
I get it–in tough times, it’s the quarterback, the starting pitcher, the goaltender. However, those putting Murray down should pump the brakes, hard. Murray also made half-dozen sparkling saves, too.
He is, and remains, a legitimate starting goalie in the NHL…who is a winner.
—Bryan Rust and Chad Ruhwedel left the game in the second period. No update was available.
–Lastly, Ryan Reaves. Bag him for lack of offense. Bag him for not earning more than seven minutes of ice. All true.
However–that was Columbus, for the second time in a week. Did you see one cheap shot? One dirty play? Or even much borderline stuff at all?
The Penguins punched the bully in the mouth, last week. The bully had no reason nor benefited from engaging in more of the same. Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Ryan Reaves sent a message. Neither side had the motivation to revisit the discussion.
The reason–Ryan Reaves leveled the playing field. And Lukas Sedlak.
Now, if he could score a little more…
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