The Pittsburgh Penguins didn’t play perfectly in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Far from it.
But they still should’ve won the game and taken a 3-1 series lead back to Pittsburgh. Instead, because of two late gaffes from their goaltender, the Pens are locked in a best-of-three.
Marc-Andre Fleury, who had previously been Pittsburgh’s most consistent player in this young postseason, allowed Nick Foligno to fire a long-range wrister past him at 2:49 of overtime, giving Columbus a 4-3 win in front of a rabid home crowd at Nationwide Arena.
That wasn’t the worst of it, as Brandon Dubinsky completed the Blue Jackets’ three-goal comeback with the tying goal at 19:36 of the third. Despite the mere one-goal margin, the Penguins were defending beautifully in the final 10 minutes until Fleury went behind his net to play a bouncing dump-in. The puck hopped over his stick and directly to Ryan Johansen, who centered for Dubinsky to fire into a yawning net.
Prior to his late mistakes, Fleury had almost singlehandedly kept Pittsburgh in the lead. He has stopped 38 of the first 40 as the Penguins got snowed under by the Blue Jackets power play, which scored twice to reduce an early 3-0 deficit.
Although they were outshot 46-25 and out-attempted by a similarly wide margin, the Pens nearly converted a three-goal first period into their second straight win in Columbus. Pittsburgh had rallied from 3-1 down in Monday’s Game 3 to win 4-3, continuing the theme of the first two matchups. In fact, this is the first series in NHL history in which the team leading by two goals has lost each of the first four games.
The Penguins had a great chance to change that trend, starting with Craig Adams‘ surprising shorthanded goal 6:09 into the game. Brandon Sutter set him up for the fourth shorthanded tally of this unpredictable series, with each team netting two. Chris Kunitz deflected in his first of the playoffs four minutes later, getting a stick on Matt Niskanen‘s point shot at the start of Pittsburgh’s first power play.
The assist was Niskanen’s fifth point of the series, but he is being outpaced by fellow defenseman Paul Martin, who made it eight points in four games with helpers on the Penguins’ first two scores. James Neal buried a one-timer from the right circle off a nifty play from Jussi Jokinen to make it 3-0 at 11:10, but Columbus’ Boone Jenner redirected Mark Letestu‘s drive during a Jackets power play late in the frame.
Johansen stuffed in a loose puck on an extended two-man advantage with 5:40 to go in the second period, capping a penalty-fueled Blue Jackets push. Columbus outshot Pittsburgh 18-6 in the frame, sending a message that they weren’t going to go as quietly as it appeared in the first.
It might not have come down to the final minute if Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin could’ve ended their respective playoff goal droughts. Crosby’s is at nine and Malkin’s is eight after their latest goose eggs, although “Geno” did earn a secondary assist and show his trademark explosiveness. Crosby was completely scoreless, looking extremely passive and unwilling to drive the net like usual.
The series will take two full days off for the second time before Saturday’s Game 5 at Consol Energy Center. The Penguins and Jackets are set to face off at 7 p.m.