Let's count some of the hockey archetypes/clichés on display tonight.
Show some resolve. Bodies to the net. Pucks on goal. Face adversity and overcome it. Redemption in net. Fending off a last second attempt. And, yes, get to our game.
The Pittsburgh Penguins did a little bit of all of that, gutting out a 4-3 win in Game 3 over the Columbus Blue Jackets thanks to a great third period that saw them score three goals on three shots in a 2:13 span.
The seed of most unlikely of comebacks was planted by the most unlikely of sources when Brooks Orpik scored a buzzer-beating goal in the second period, by calmly dragging the puck behind a sliding defender, to halve Columbus' lead. I'll pause here to let you read that sentence again.
The Jackets would re-establish their two goal lead early in the third, and Pittsburgh didn't just "say die", they showed some guts and came back. It was a simple but effective formula- get bodies to the net, get shots from the point to the net. And, sure, get some good luck in the form of bounces.
First, Paul Martin's point shot got deflected by Brandon Sutter, who was posted in traffic in front of Sergei Bobrovsky. Shortly after, Chris Kunitz made a nice pass to a streaking Lee Stempniak who blew a shot over Bobrovsky's shoulder.
This image was almost the whole recap. After two shaky early goals, the Penguins definitely stabilized and threw everything and the kitchen sink at Bobrovsky. It didn't pay off until the sequence in the 3rd period, but they certainly appeared to get back on track.
A few more thoughts on the game:
- Marc-Andre Fleury, holding tough again. Early it looked like another disaster, with Fleury twice misplaying fairly routine shots and leaving the worst of rebounds that the Jackets pounced on. Bylsma used his timeout and appeared to shout some encouragement quickly at Fleury. Whatever happened, it worked, Fleury was a lot better and appeared to gain confidence in his play. His angles looked better and his rebound control eventually got to where it needed to be later in the 3rd period.
- The official scorer in Columbus appears to have an issue. He scored it 65-32 in hits for CBJ. It was a physical game but that's a little bit of a show. Every player in Blue, save Ryan Murray got a hit on the night. Blake Comeau had 8 in just 8:46 of ice-time. Sure he did, it's in the stat-sheet.
- Offense from the defense continues to be a Penguins staple. Another 2 point night for Martin, Maatta and Orpik with goals. Columbus is allowing the point-men the time and space for shots, so by all means keep firing away.
- Faceoffs were not pretty for the Pens, especially early. Ironically Malkin (who's usually the worst centerman at draws) was the only one 50%+, winning 6 of 10. Sidney Crosby and Brandon Sutter combined to win only 16 of 36 on the night.
- Crosby, like the rest of the Penguins PP, continues to struggle and the frustration is palpable. Hopefully the dam will break in the form of a flood of goals here soon, if they can just stay the course. Credit CBJ for their good work to limit Crosby and keep him to the outside, but there's only so long that the game's best can be denied.
- And, to that point, Crosby had a team best 76.5% CF tonight (16 shots for, 5 against). He may look a little "off his game" with his decision making and execution of passing sometimes, but he's still helping to tilt the ice, big time, to the Pens advantage.
- A lot of penalties jumbled things up, but interesting that Martin/Orpik each played 18 minutes even strength tonight, Kris Letang skated 15:34, Rob Scuderi with 12:26 and Maatta and Niskanen getting 11 and change. Maatta and Niskanen were on the ice for both early goals- though it'd be difficult to fault either for Fleury coughing up juicy rebounds. But still, point is the Pens rode Orpik/Martin and they rode them hard and I'd expect that trend repeats in Game 4.
- Joe Vitale showed a little flash and excitement in his limited minutes, but if he wants a bigger role he's going to have to do better than 0 for 5 in the faceoff circle.
- What a series for Jack Johnson. A defensemen who is confident and capable enough to step up into that soft spot between the other team's forwards and defense in the zone is so dangerous. Johnson has scored in every game of this series so far, and the Pens need to find an answer for giving him so much room. With the puck on his stick in danger zones, he's not going to make mistakes.
- Brandon Dubinsky is also having a great series. 2 assists tonight, 5 hits, 3 shots on goal and a 63% winner on 16 faceoffs. His grit and sandpaper is a big reason that Crosby has been bottled up. And Dubinsky was very close to tying the game in the dying seconds.
- Bobrovsky looked absolutely unbeatable early, turning away the Pens first 25 shots on goal, often square to shots, with no traffic he's going to pick up pucks and his rebound control is superb. Luckily the Pens found a way to combat that by taking away his vision with traffic in front, it worked.
Interestingly, a multi-goal lead has been blown in each of the three games of this series. Columbus had a golden opportunity to take this series over, but it slipped away to the more experienced team who pushed just hard enough at just the right time and ended up making their luck.
How will this game effect Columbus moving forward? Can they recover from this? Will Malkin and Crosby be held off the board again on Wednesday? It seems like a matter of time before a big game from the big boys and if that happens, these messy games might be a lot cleaner. It may be a little early to definitively say the comeback in this game has clearly tipped the series, but it's potentially a big moment in the series, and season, of the Pens to show some resolve and defy adversity.
Either way, at this time of the year a win is a win is a win.