The Pittsburgh Penguins were looking to make good on a sudden ending to their playoff hopes a season before, while the Columbus Blue Jackets planned to make some noise in their franchise’s second post-season appearance. On paper, the match-up was one sided, but as all NHL fans know, that is never the case in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the result was another entertaining first-round series.
Game One was certainly a barn-burner, with both teams coming out flying to start the series. The Blue Jackets held the lead through the first period, and Derek MacKenzie scored just 50 seconds into the second frame shorthanded, putting the Jackets ahead by two. However, three straight goals by the Penguins, including Brandon Sutter‘s game-winner at the mid-way point in the third period brought the Penguins back, winning 4-3 and taking the 1-0 series lead.
Game Two nearly mirrored the first game in terms of score, and the action was once again a spectacle. The Penguins held a3-1 lead with an even strength, power-play, and short-handed goal after the first period, but the Jackets had lots of fight left. Matt Calvert scored the Jackets’ own short-handed goal, and Jack Johnson followed suit with his second goal in as many games, tying the score late in the third. The stage was set for overtime, but one extra period wasn’t enough. It took Calvert just 1:10 in the second OT period to give the Blue Jackets a 4-3 win, tying the series at one heading home to Columbus.
It seemed that the Nationwide Arena was in fact, on the Blue Jackets’ side after one period of play in Game Three, with a 2-0 lead. It took the Penguins just under two periods to score their first goal, with Brooks Orpik finding the net with just 2 seconds left to play in the second period. The Blue Jackets got the two-goal margin back early in the third period with a goal from Cam Atkinson, but the Penguins scored three goals in the following 7:02 to take their first lead of the game, and hold on for a 4-3 victory, along with the 2-1 series lead.
The Penguins kicked off Game Four with a 3-0 lead, hungry to take a stranglehold on the series before heading back home. However, the Blue Jackets slowly chipped away at the Penguins’ advantage, scoring power-play goals in both the first and second periods, setting the stage for an exciting conclusion. With just 24 seconds left to go, Brandon Dubinsky tied the game off a give-away by the Penguins behind their own goal, and the series would head to another overtime. Nick Foligno was the hero the second time around for the Jackets, scoring less than three minutes into extra time, tying the series 2-2. It was the fourth straight game that a team led 3-1, only to lose 4-3.
The series headed back to Pennsylvania dead-locked for Game Five. Boone Jenner put the Jackets ahead in the first with his third goal of the series on the power-play, but Chris Kunitz equaled that for the Pens with a goal of his own on the man-advantage, and the teams went into the second intermission tied at 1. The Penguins’ relentless attack netted them a go-ahead goal with 14 minutes remaining, and it turned out to be the game winner, with an empty-net marker by Kris Letang in the final seconds. The Penguins’ 3-1 win earned them the opportunity to finish the series in Game Six.
The Blue Jackets went home with the playoffs on the line in Game Six, and it seemed their fate was decided from the opening puck-drop. Evgeni Malkin scored three of four unanswered Penguins goals, as Pittsburgh held a 4-0 lead heading into the third period. However, a short-handed goal by Fedor Tyutin, followed by an Artem Anisimov power-play goal, and Foligno’s second goal of the series gave the Nationwide Arena life with just four minutes left. The Penguins’ defense took a beating in the final minutes, but they would not let a goal past them, as their 4-3 win gave them the 4-2 series victory.
The Jackets saw production from 16 players, while 12 had two or more points. On the Penguins, those numbers were 15 and 13, respectively. Sidney Crosby did not register a goal in the series, although he averaged a point-per-game with six assists.
In goal the difference was exremely minute, with both Marc-Andre Fleury and Sergei Bobrovsky finishing the series with .908% save percentages. Bobrovsky put up 198 saves to Fleury’s 178, while the Penguins goaltender had the edge in the Goals Against Average category: 2.81 to 3.17.
The Blue Jackets held the edge in special teams, with a 25.9% rate on the power-play and 79.3% clip on the penalty-kill, to Pittsburgh’s 20.7% and 74.1% ratings.
The Penguins move on to face the winner of the New York Rangers/Philadelphia Flyers first-round series, and it is the end of the year for the Columbus Blue Jackets, who played their under-dog role to near perfection.
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