There are so many different story lines in the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs. Injuries. Scoring. Big leads. Comeback charges. Victories.
We saw a little bit of everything in Game 6 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets series. A series that saw the team that scored first lose each of the five of the first games. Twice the Pens blew 3rd period leads and ended up losing in overtime. After giving up three third period goals, they were in danger of having that happen for a third time.
Luckily, it didn't come to pass. Thanks mainly to Evgeni Malkin scoring three goals early (and Brandon Sutter getting another one) the Pens had enough goals to hold off the last ditch CBJ comeback. It was a valiant effort but it fell short.
So that's the first round of the playoffs. Just like we expected, right? Whew.
A few more thoughts on the game:
- It was absolute domination early by Pittsburgh. 4 goals. Tons of shots. Columbus could barely control the puck, and when they did, Pittsburgh's defense (and back-checking forwards) dis-possessed them seemingly with ease...Until, of course the tide turned in the 3rd period.
- A lot can be made of the near-collapse. It wasn't really Marc-Andre Fleury 's fault. His team almost completely stopped skating in front of him on the power play and they gave up a goal. Then they took a penalty and gave up a goal to Columbus' PP. Still not showing much urgency, they allowed a tip shot from the slot. Uh oh.
- But, ultimately, no harm no foul. The Pens got focused and didn't allow another one. Good thing.
- Despite scoring the goals and looking beastly all over the night, Malkin was glued to the bench for the last 2:13 of the game. Bylsma elected to give shifts for lesser overall players Craig Adams, Tanner Glass, Lee Stempniak and Marcel Goc down the stretch, but not Malkin. It worked. For Bylsma's sake, good thing.
- It's no excuse for the comeback, but concerning news to watch Brandon Sutter leave with a lower body injury after awkwardly tripping up near the boards. He was back (in full uniform) for the handshake line, for whatever that's worth, at least. Sutter's been playing the best hockey of his career over this whole series, so hopefully his injury isn't too severe. He's become a vital part of the team.
- And speaking of "vital", Joe Vitale also left after an inadvertent (?) knee-on-knee hit with Blake Comeau. It's questionable because Vitale may have wanted to take a little run at Comeau after he dropped Beau Bennett with a big (but clean) hit. Still, it also looked like Vitale was tracking the puck behind the net and Comeau didn't see Vitale and changed his course right before they collided. Comeau would return, Vitale would get literally get insult added to injury to be assessed a kneeing minor and did not return to the game.
- Kris Letang and Paul Martin played against mostly together and for the lion share of minutes tonight and both looked pretty good together, particularly early in the game with a dominant performance where it seemed like a Blue Jacket couldn't even skate by them.
- For all the talk of how Columbus would have the better goaltender in this series, I'm not sure they did. Fleury was pretty good, and even more impressively, continued to "bounce back" from tough goals over and over. Sergei Bobrovsky wasn't bad, by any means, but allowed more goals in more bunches. The perception would be that Bob would steal games, and he never really came close to doing that. Or that Fleury would totally fall apart and cost the Pens games, and outside of Game 4 (which he held them in for 59 minutes) he never did that either.
- Sidney Crosby only had 1 shot on goal but hit 2 goal-posts. Just can't win for losing right now, but hey, the Pens ended up not needing a goal from their captain to win the series. For as much as he's almost single-handedly carried the team to this point, they owed him this one.
- Goc got leaned on a lot more after Sutter went down, and ended up taking 13 faceoffs (second on the team) and winning 62% of them (tops on the team). Hopefully we won't see Sutter miss time, but if he has to, luckily the Pens have a decent 3rd center waiting in the wings.
Pensburgh 3 Stars of the Game
3. Fedor Tyutin (1 goal, 1 assist)
2. Marc-Andre Fleury (24 saves on 27 shots)
1. Evgeni Malkin (3 goals)
Pensburgh goat of the game
``Dan Bylsma had Rob Scuderi on the ice on the PP goal against. I know the thought process, but you just can't put Rob Scuderi on the power play, no matter the score or situation. Bad move and it started the domino effect that let Columbus in the game.
I also didn't like seeing Malkin on the bench for the final 2+ minutes while lesser players were out there. It worked, and obviously in a desperate time to hold a lead you want your best defensive and shot-blocking forwards out there, but Malkin is an MVP caliber player who was the best player in the building. Use him.
Bylsma also did not use his timeout, even after Columbus was in the process of scoring three goals 4:52. He could have utilized that to wake his team up and stop the growing momentum but chose not to, for some reason. I'm not trying to pile on and hindsight is always 20/20, but the coach seemed to pull his foot too far off the gas pedal a little too early, and it almost proved costly.
But, at the end of the day, the Pens pull it off and get Fleury his first playoff series win since 2010. It counts if you win ugly just as much as winning pretty, and if not for a slip-up, the Pens were really very dominant for the first 50 minutes of this game (and the last 50 minutes of the previous game). Columbus was a game, desperate opponent, but just a class below the Pens.
Pittsburgh can clean a few things up, and hopefully get good injury news on Sutter and Brooks Orpik and we'll see who comes out of the New York Rangers / Philadelphia Flyers series for the next opponent. Yep, it's only gonna get tougher from here.
Buckle up baby. Go Pens.