The exact same story has unfolded in all three games between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the NHL playoffs.
The team that has led 3-1 in every game has wound up losing 4-3.
The only problem for the Blue Jackets is they’ve lost two of those three games, including Game 3 on Monday, when they coughed up a two-goal lead in the third period.
Are the Blue Jackets playing better and harder and more deserving of wins than the second-seeded Penguins? Or are they simply getting burned by a better team?
“That’s a great question,” Blue Jackets radio play-by-play man Jeff Rimer said on Ferrall on the Bench. “Aside from maybe the third period (of Game 3), the Blue Jackets have actually outplayed the Penguins. If you had told my before the series that the Blue Jackets would keep the likes of (Sidney) Crosby, (Evgeni) Malkin, (James) Neal – and pick anybody else – off the score sheet, I would tell you that the Blue Jackets would have a 3-0 series lead.
“The Jackets have played very, very well. They’ve not allowed those so-called superstars to find the back of the net. In fact, if it was not for a few breaks and flukes on a couple of redirections in front of (Sergei) Bobrovksy (on Monday), the Blue Jackets would be leading this series two games to one – and not Pittsburgh.”
Columbus stunned the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to win, 4-3, in overtime. Pittsburgh did not score after the first period.
It was the Blue Jackets’ first playoff win in 4,493 days.
Afterward, many wondered if the Penguins weren’t taking the Blue Jackets seriously.
“Well, no question,” Rimer said. “I think they put it in cruise control that night, and obviously the Jackets got it going. I don’t think, again, (that) this hockey club is all that engaged.”
Scott Ferrall, a diehard Penguins fan, has not been impressed with Marc-Andre Fleury in either of the last two postseasons, and he hasn’t been impressed with him against Columbus, either.
Rimer, however, disagrees.
“If not for Fleury, the Jackets would have had a third or a fourth goal after they stormed to that 2-0 lead (in Game 3), and the game would have been over,” Rimer said. “Fleury, I think, has really been one of the better Penguins in this series. In fact, talking to some of the management of the Penguins prior to the game (Monday) at the morning skate, they were saying the same thing – that Fleury has certainly stood up and played well. Hopefully all the doubters can sit back and say, ‘Well, maybe Fleury is playing all right.’
“But I have not seen the best from Crosby, (and) I have not seen a lot from Malkin.”
To be fair, Crosby and Malkin – despite not scoring – have certainly left an imprint on the series. Crosby (four) and Malkin (three) have assisted on seven of Pittsburgh’s 11 goals against Columbus.
In fact, Crosby assisted on Lee Stempniak’s tying goal in Game 3.
“They got a little more (active) in that third period and really dominated the Blue Jackets,” Rimer said.
Still, Rimer feels that Columbus is consistently getting better shots on goal than Pittsburgh.
“That’s not spoken like a homer broadcaster,” he said. “I’m telling you, the Jackets were all over Fleury and got some quality chances. Pittsburgh came into (Game 3) with one thing in mind, and that is shoot pucks from everywhere. That was a criticism coming from their coaching staff that they weren’t getting enough pucks at the Jackets’ net. Well, that’s what they did, and fortunately for them, they got a number of deflections.”