In Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Pittsburgh Penguins overcame a sluggish start and a two-goal deficit to win 4-3.
Game 2 was the mirror image of that, as the Blue Jackets came back from 2-0 and 3-1 down to take a 4-3 sudden-death victory Saturday night at Consol Energy Center.
Matt Calvert scored on his own rebound 1:10 into the second overtime, delivering the first playoff win in Columbus’ franchise history and tying the best-of-seven series heading into Monday’s Game 3 at Nationwide Arena.
Calvert’s game-winner, his second goal of the game, was emblematic of the latter portion of the night for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury made a terrific stop on Calvert’s initial chance from the left edge of the crease, but no Pittsburgh player could get a body on Calvert before he popped in his follow-up chance.
Fleury made 41 saves in one of the finest performances of his playoff career, only it wasn’t enough to overcome a Penguins team that gradually sagged from the second period on. Calvert’s first goal, Columbus’ second shorthanded tally of the series, started the comeback in earnest 7:31 into the middle frame.
Jack Johnson‘s power-play goal with 6:01 to go, the Jackets’ second man-advantage score of the game, forced OT. Not only did the Penguins surrender two goals in six Columbus opportunities, their own power play went 1 for 9 – including two misfires in the first sudden-death period.
Still, Pittsburgh had a glorious chance to win late in the first overtime when the rebound of Sidney Crosby‘s right-circle shot bounced to Lee Stempniak, but Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky got his blocker on what appeared to be the deciding moment. Maybe it was, just in the opposite direction.
Everything was going the Penguins’ way early, with Brian Gibbons scoring on a deflection and a shorthanded breakaway in the opening 4 1/2 minutes. But Gibbons, who had earned a spot on Crosby’s right wing with his speed and tenacity, left the game with what appeared to be a shoulder injury.
Still, the Pens answered Ryan Johansen‘s power-play bomb at 5:07 with one from Matt Niskanen at 17:52, making it 3-1 in front of a raucous home crowd. Niskanen also earned an assist on Gibbons’ first tally, giving him four points in four playoff periods. The Pens outshot the Jackets 15-4 in the first.
Crosby helped on two first period goals, but he was noticeably careless with the puck all night, especially on the power play. Evgeni Malkin was the better of the Pens’ two star centers, although he couldn’t get on the scoresheet. His linemates Jussi Jokinen and James Neal had similar issues, as did the third-unit duo of Brandon Sutter and Beau Bennett.
Even with all the negative trends, Pittsburgh was a few minutes from a 2-0 series lead until Kris Letang was whistled for a dubious interference penalty with 6 1/2 minutes to go. Johansen ensured Columbus would take advantage when he slid a one-handed pass across to a wide-open Johnson for an easy finish at the right circle.
Pittsburgh native R.J. Umberger had the Jackets’ best look of the first overtime, but Fleury slid in front of his turning backhand shot from the top of the crease.
The third playoff game in Nationwide Arena history will face off at 7 p.m. Monday.