Jake Guentzel #59 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates his second period goal with Sidney Crosby #87 while playing the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena on April 14, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH — If you are a Blue Jackets fan, you don’t want to think the Pittsburgh Penguins are in your team’s head, like a subcranial hematoma pressing on the cerebellum, affecting balance. Yet, you have to consider the possibility.
The Jackets played well in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series Friday night. They did, however, lose.
“(Pucks) are bouncing every which way but in our net,” captain Nick Foligno said. “As soon as they start bouncing our way, look out.”
The Penguins forced a mistake, capitalized on another mistake, added a power-play goal and beat the Jackets 4-1 at PPG Paints Arena. A crowd of 18,622, sensing a solid mojo, rocked the place. Some of them even left early to beat the wicked Good Friday traffic and missed the empty-net goal.
You don’t want to think that the Penguins are in the Jackets’ head, but stuff happens.
Like, the Jackets held the Penguins without a shot for the first 8 minutes, 30 seconds of the game — and then goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky pulls a Turco, is checked off the puck behind the net, and Sidney Crosby appears, on the doorstep, to score one of the easiest playoff goals of his illustrious career — on the Penguins’ first shot of the game.
Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins scores a first period goal past Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena on April 14, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Pittsburgh won the game 4-1 to take a 2-0 series lead. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Down at the other end of the rink, Marc-Andre Fleury is playing out of his mind. Can anybody get anything past this Flower?
Brandon Saad did, and, if you are a Jackets fan, you’re thinking “demons begone.”
Saad was benched in the third period of Game 1. Saad is paid to score, and coach John Tortorella has been pushing any button within reach to get Saad going. This was a snipe, too, a quick snapper that beat Fleury high glove, far post.
Then, more stuff happened.
Defenseman Gabriel Carlsson, playing his fourth NHL game, hops over the boards, scans the horizon and what does he see? He sees Crosby with the puck on his right and Jake Guentzel on his left, and they are flying at him, two-on-one. Carlsson has been praised by Tortorella for being “fearless,” but this sight would have been a jolt for Borje Salming in his prime.
It’s hard to know exactly what was going through Carlsson’s head, but he presented a textbook case of what not to do on a two-on-one. He played it right down the middle. You could almost sense Crosby smiling as he whipped his pass over to Guentzel, who scored on a one-timer.
Suddenly, the Penguins had a 2-1 lead. They’re up in the series, two games to zip, and they have yet to trail.
“We’re excited,” Brandon Dubinsky said. “We’re not feeling down. We’re excited to get home to Nationwide. That place is going to be buzzing.”
If you are a Jackets fan, you don’t want to think there is something playing on your team’s mind, but stuff keeps happening. Like, right at the end of the second period, Crosby rolls into Scott Hartnell’s legs, Hartnell takes issue, a scrum develops — and what comes out of it? Dubinsky, who got jumped by Ian Cole, gets two minutes for roughing.
The penalties don’t wash out there? Seriously?
Technically speaking, the Penguins did not score on the ensuing power play. But in reality, they did, at 2:01 of the third period. This was Evgeni Malkin’s goal, from a hard angle, squeezed through Bobrovsky’s armpit. Bob admitted he should have stopped that one.
“I thought everyone of our team played their (butts) off,” Tortorella said. “We’re not doing too much thinking about who we’re playing against. We’re just playing the right way.”
The Jackets believe they will bounce back at home. They think they just need a couple of bounces. If you are a Jackets fan, you hope they’re right.