The Pittsburgh Penguins followed a path to success that looked nearly identical to Game 1 on Wednesday to carry themselves to a 4-1 win Friday night at PPG Paints Arena.
The similarities included Columbus dominating the shot count and territorial advantage for the first eight plus minutes of the game. Once again Marc Andre Fleury held the fort until the Penguins found their legs and their game, as a result.
The shots were 8-0 Columbus 7 minutes in, Fleury made a big poke check on Cam Atkinson as he tried to walk out from behind the net. His other dangerous save was a redirect off of Matt Cullen’s skate that hit MAF and had to be cleared near the goal line and out by Cullen, himself.
But, then the Blue Jackets made a terrible mistake that Pittsburgh took full advantage of…..they allowed a shot on goal.
After Columbus couldn’t hold the Puck in at the blue line, the puck made its way down where Sergei Bobrovsky went behind to play it. Except he held it too long, and Conor Sheary raced in on the fore-check and won the puck. He sent the biscuit out front to Jake Guentzel who mad a quick touch pass to a wide open Sidney Crosby who ripped it into a wide open net for the opening goal nearly 9 minutes into the game.
From there the Penguins would even out the chances and control of the puck. Bobrovsky would have to come up big on a couple of occasions. One of which was a two on one that saw Tom Kuhnhackl denied after a defenseman’s stick got in the way and slowed the puck down.
Patric Hornqvist also was shut down on a couple of chances from in tight and ended up chipping the puck high and wide.
The first period would end with the shots closed to an 11-7 advantage for the Blue Jackets, most of that damage in the first 10 minutes. One thing to note is that the average distance of shot Columbus was able to get off was 42 feet. This meant that despite the swarming start, Columbus was still having issues getting to the slot area with and regularity or success.
Columbus out hit the Pens 26-9 in the first, continuing that trend as well.
Fleury would be tested right away in the second as he made good saves on two re-directs from the far slot, barely 45 seconds into the period. MAF continued to be razor-sharp filling in for the injured Matt Murray.
Anyone else finding the irony that one year later, MAF maybe reclaiming his throne during the Spring? Much as Matt Murray took advantage of Fleury being hurt during last year’s run. Hey, as long as the goalie wearing black and gold is doing work, shut up and enjoy the ride.
Columbus would out shoot Pittsburgh 9-3 through the first five minutes of the second period, and eventually they would get the equalizer.
Brandon Saad, (Pine Richland product) would Lead the rush on a three on two down the far wing. His shot would skip off of the stick of Ron Hainsey and off of MAF and into the far side top corner.
Saad who was benched in the third period for some wild reason in game one, responded to his punishment and suddenly the Jackets had the results on the scoreboard that they needed to match their hard work. It looked like momentum had clearly shif…….
No, it didn’t.
Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel came in on a two-on-one and once they gained the zone, instead of holding the puck the whole way down the slot before passing, Crosby passed the puck out high from above the faceoff circles. Guentzel was ready for it and one-timed the puck inside the post and JUST avoiding Bob’s out-stretched leg to regain the lead for the home side.
The next thing you noticed about the first half of this game, was that the refs were REALLY letting both sides play.
Carter Rowney had an excellent shift where he delivered two monster hits in the offensive zone. All of his work ended up leading to a Matt Cullen chance that had to be gloved and held by Bob.
Soon after, the penalties started to appear. Hainsey and Nick Foglino would go off on a four on four after ther was too much holding of Hainsey’s stick by both players…..
Then with 2:26 to go in the period, Brian Dumoulin would be called for a trip. You hate complaining about NHL refs because they are always a dumpster fire. This call was very head scratching, esp after the stick of Crosby had been broken by a slash a minute earlier.
The Pens killed the minor and the period would expire. Brandon Dubinski would do pretty much the only thing he knows how to do, and that’s be a pile of trash. His altercation with Crosby, Ian Cole, and others would lead to a Penguins man advantage to start the third.
ONE SECOND after the penalty had been killed by Columbus, the Penguins would strike a decisive blow.
It would come from the stick of Evgeni Malkin, who up until that point of the game, did not look like the same Geno from Wednesday. He received a pass from Crosby who swooped and circled through the slot. His dish to Malkin on the near boards would be whipped on net and squeeze through Bobrovsky’s five hole and find its way home.
An extreme angle and most assuredly a goal that the Russian net minder would want back.
So at 2:01 of the third the Penguins tightened their grip on keeping home ice all to themselves.
It wouldn’t come easy though as MAF would have to come up big, including stopping Saad on a breakaway after the Penguins D made a brutal tape to tape pass that was picked off.
Bob would also be tested some more as Malkin gained some life after his goal, but he, himself was denied on a breakaway.
Ian Cole has been a straight up MONSTER in these first two games.
Pittsburgh would kill off a minor to Justin Schultz at 12:04, and the game got down to 2:20 remaining when the Jackets would pull the goalie in an attempt to get back in the game.
It would be Pittsburgh however, who would find the net. Patric Hornqvist would pick up a loose puck in the neutral zone after a blocked dump in attempt by Tom Kuhnhackl. With :45.6 seconds to go and a 4-1 lead, it was time for the Pens to deal with the Blue Jackets trying to send a message.
Matt Calvert did his best, to be his worst….
Matt Calvert is a bag of smashed assholespic.twitter.com/7rh8vJh7o1
— Sidney Crosby's Ego (@SidneyCrosbyEgo) April 15, 2017
Apologies to my 10 readers for the language on the tweet, but….yeah….that’s about right.
Calvert should be getting a call for the league. What purpose does that serve? Where was the puck during that sequence…..AND…..he followed up breaking his stick over someone, by HITTING HIM IN THE HEAD WHILE HE WAS DOUBLED OVER!!!
Bush league is too kind.
Still not mad? Look what the Columbus Dispatch is giving to CBJ fans for their arrival to Game 3 on Easter Sunday….
For a franchise that hasn’t won their entire existence……just wow…..
So let the noise continue from the Ohio side of things, the Pens still hold a 2-0 series lead. Getting one win in Columbus would be ideal and practically end things.
The sooner the better though, ending this thing in 4 or 5 games would give the Penguins time to rest before a potential second round match up with the Caps. The sooner you can get away from a team that would rather be bullies than score goals, the better.
What more can you say about Marc Andre Fleury? At this point if you can’t see what he means to his teammates and this team….I can’t help you. 39 saves on 40 shots on Friday, allowed two goals total in two games when he thought he would be riding the bench for most of the Spring? Yeah, that’ll do.
Sunday will even be another level, Columbus will come out faster, and press more, and shoot more. They are desperate, if they go down 3-0, they know it is over. Pittsburgh will see the best they have to offer in those opening 10 to 20 minutes Sunday. And the mouth-breathers wearing Blue Jackets rags at Nationwide Arena will be thirsty for blood.
The two fans dressed as blind refs always seated behind the net, just to the side will annoy you, much as they always do.
But the Pens will stay to their game….if they haven’t got caught up in it to this point, they will not jeopardize a 2-0 lead by suddenly getting out of control. This is a different team than the one that lost their marbles many times over the last five years.
They are champions…..something Columbus and their fans can only dream of.
See you Sunday.
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