Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets makes a save against Bryan Rust #17 of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Five of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at PPG Paints Arena on April 20, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH — Oh, Bob.
The Blue Jackets needed Sergei Bobrovsky at or near the top of his game to have a chance to beat the defending Stanley Cup champions. They needed Bobrovsky to be better than the Pittsburgh Penguins’ backup, Marc-Andre Fleury, who was rushed into service when Matt Murray reinjured his groin just before Game 1.
The Jackets needed Bobrovsky to steal a game against the vaunted Penguins. Maybe, they needed him to steal two. He did no burgling.
The Penguins beat the Jackets 5-2 on Thursday night before a crowd of 18,585 at PPG Paints Arena. With the victory, the Penguins eliminated the Jackets four games to one from the first round of the playoffs and slammed a lid on the best season in Jackets history.
The Jackets won 50 games and amassed 108 points during the regular season. Bobrovsky won 41 games and had a 2.06 goals-against average and a .931 save percentage during the regular season. In the playoffs, he was, statistically, among the league’s worst goaltenders: 1-4, 3.88, .882.
“They’re good players,” Bobrovsky said of the Penguins. “They won the series. They beat me.”
Bobrovsky did not lose the series. No, when a team wins but one game in a best-of-seven, the problems go deeper than the goalie. The Jackets’ biggest problem was the Penguins. Evgeni Malkin had 11 points in six games. Dang. Sidney Crosby and his left wing, Jake Guentzel, combined for 13 points. Phil Kessel had eight points. They put on a clinic in how to manage and win playoff games.
This thing was closer than the final tally. The Jackets nearly won Game 3 in overtime, when a shot at a gaping net somehow turned into a facemask save by Fleury. The Jackets won Game 4. It can be argued that, if not for Fleury’s mask, we’d have a Game 6 Sunday at Nationwide Arena. It can also be argued that, if not for Fleury’s 49 saves in Game 5, the Jackets have a chance to advance.
“We played our (glutei) off,” Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “That’s not a 4-1 series.”
Jackets fans will stew over the officiating, and their beefs will not be wholly without merit. The fateful call came early in the third period. A goal by Oliver Bjorkstrand — which would have tied the score at 3 — was wiped out on a goaltender’s interference penalty on Alexander Wennberg.
When the so-called foul occurred, Fleury was outside of his crease and Wennberg was being hooked, rather blatantly, by Scott Wilson. Fleury embellished the contact with a lovely back dive and the referees either missed or ignored the hook. The Penguins went on a power play and the rest is history.
Playoff officiating can be capricious. You want to avoid complaint? Winning helps.
The Jackets ran into just enough bad luck to stunt a series of fine efforts. They had no luck in Games 1 and 2 — seriously, none at all. They lost their star rookie defenseman, Zach Werenski, who took a puck in the face in Game 3. They lost their captain, Nick Foligno, to a lower-body injury in Game 5. There was a lot that was scrambled in front of Bobrovsky, who never got comfortable.
Here, the series in a nutshell:
Two elite shooters, Kessel and Crosby, scored power-play goals in Game 5. Are power-play goals Bob’s fault? Not really. Yet, at the same time, both goals were short-side jobs. The first one — which was the first goal of the game — Bobrovsky usually swallows, and he never saw it, and he wasn’t screened.
Meanwhile, Fleury beat the Jackets like a rented mule.