It's almost time for Game 6 in the topsy turvy series between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins. For the first time in this series (and like every best of 7 that reaches a G6) there is a possibility of elimination tonight. The Pens move on with a win, where they'd meet the winner of the Flyers/Rangers series that is scheduled to play Tuesday and Wednesday (if necessary). It could be a little bit of rest coming the Pens way if they can take care of business tonight and then wait until, I'm guessing, a series start on Friday night followed by a Sunday national TV matinee with a big market opponent.
But, that's getting ahead of ourselves, let's take a look at tonight's action.
No Brooks Orpik for the morning skate, meaning the Pens defenseman will likely miss his second game in a row with an undisclosed injury. He was reportedly riding an exercise bike by the Pens lockeroom, so that’s at least a small sliver of information that we can run with to know that at least he isn’t locked in a dark room, and still has the mobility to ride a bike and get an aerobic exercise going.
The only other recently injured player, Brian Gibbons, again participated with the team for the morning skate, but wasn’t on a line and given the Pens excellent game in Game 5, might not be needed for this one. If Gibbons misses, it’ll be his 4th straight game out of the lineup.
Malkin and Crosby were on their "normal" lines but also were on their normal lines before last game, when coach Dan Bylsma put Malkin on Crosby’s wing and kept the two together for many shifts and even strength. Will they be together or apart tonight? Wouldn’t Todd Richards like to know.
A look at Columbus
Over at Jackets Cannon, they know that their team is on the verge of elimination now.
The Blue Jackets played "their game" for perhaps ten minutes out of sixty [in Game 5]. No shame on Bob here - he stopped 50 shots tonight. Five. Zero. That's more than anyone should ask of any netminder, particularly in a game with this much on the line.
The Penguins found another gear. Columbus didn't. That's your story.
No matter who won tonight, Game Six on Monday night was going to be big. We all hoped that we'd get a chance to see our team close out this series in front of their home fans.
That's not going to happen.
Instead, they find themselves faced with another challenge - backs to the wall, and with their opponents smelling blood.
If they want to see Game Seven, they can't have another effort like this. But if they scrap like hell...they might just be able to stay alive, and where there's life, there's hope.
The Columbus players are still saying the right things. From Aaron Portzline of the Dispatch:
Richards liked the mood around his club this morning, he said.
"There's good focus, there was anticipation, nervousness," Richards said, "... all those good emotions you want before a good hockey game."
The Blue Jackets want to avoid a post-game handshake tonight. They want to push this series back to Consol Energy Center on Wednesday, make a Game 7 necessary.
"The pressure is on (Pittsburgh) right now," Dubinsky said. "Everybody said the Penguins were going to win, and a lot of people thought they were going to sweep us. We’re sitting here at Game 6, at home, in front of a great group of fans."
The biggest change for Columbus is that The Pride of Plum Boro, RJ Umberger, will miss the game with a shoulder injury. Comeau has bumped up a line to fill Umberger’s spot and Jared Boll is back in the lineup for the first time since Game 1. This will be a big step back, but since Boll only played 5:44 in Game 1, expect them to rotate another forward in occasionally to take shifts on the Letestu line in order to get a little bit of a better player in the mix.
Defensively, Columbus has one change, with Nikita Nikitin (injury) out and vet Nick Schultz (who played in Game 4) back in.