While the most popular pick here at Pensburgh was Pens over Jackets in six — some jagoff picked the Pens to win in seven — nobody was bold enough to predict a sweep. Through the first three games of round one it isn’t out of the question, and, without sounding like Captain Obvious, a quick disposal of the Blue Jackets would be extremely beneficial for the Penguins.
After falling behind 3-1 in the opening period last night, the Penguins mounted a Game 3 comeback that saw Jake Guentzel score his first career hat trick en route to a 5-4 overtime win. It was a proverbial nail in the coffin for a Blue Jackets team that, outside of the first few minutes of Game 3, has not looked terribly impressive.
I’m never a fan of looking past opponents, but you just get a feeling this one is as good as over — and if the Pens are able to wrap it up in the next game or two, what a spot they would be in.
Murray on the Mend
Full credit to Marc-Andre Fleury for his performance thus far. Many were quick to pin the blame on him for three first-period goals in Game 3, but he wasn’t totally at fault for the early debacle. He mostly settled down as the game went on, and made some crucial saves to keep the Pens in the game — including his overtime mask save on Brandon Dubinsky. Still, for most of the night, including on multiple Blue Jackets goals, his rebound control was very poor.
Matt Murray has yet to dress for a game this series, and an extra week of rest could bring him back into the fold for the second round. As long as he’s ready to go sooner rather than later, and Fleury doesn’t completely stand on his head over the next few games, he’ll be the starter. He’s Sullivan’s guy, plain and simple.
After racing out to a 3-0 lead in round one — scoring three, four, and five goals respectively — it certainly doesn’t appear that the Penguins are missing anybody up front.
As adequate as Carter Rowney has been — and he has been perfectly serviceable in my opinion — he’ll be the first to come out of the lineup once Carl Hagelin and/or Chris Kunitz are ready to go. The other spot isn’t as cut and dry, but there simply isn’t enough space for one of Scott Wilson and Tom Kuhnhackl. It sucks that one of them will sit because I like them both as players, but too much depth isn’t the worst problem to have. Remember when we were letting Tanner Glass and Joe Vitale play in playoff games?
Right now, with the exception of the Canadiens leading the Rangers 2-1, every other Eastern Conference series is tied at one game apiece. That includes the mighty Washington Capitals and the Toronto Matthews Leafs — one of whom will be the Penguins second round opponent.
Now, surely one team can win the next three games and that series could end just as fast as the Penguins and Blue Jackets. However, through the first two games, these teams have combined to play nearly three full overtime periods. And not only has each game been a marathon, they’ve been all out sprints. The young legs of the Maple Leafs are giving the slower-footed Capitals defensemen some fits, and I don’t expect that to change as the series heads to Toronto tonight (semi-bold prediction: Toronto 4, Washington 3).
If the Penguins could wrap things up in Columbus and get a full week of rest while the Capitals and Leafs skate each other into the ground during an extended series, well that would just be the bee's knees.
Oh, and if you haven’t watched either game, watch Game 3 tonight. It’s been fantastic hockey.
Birds of Prey
I’ll spare everyone the walk down memory lane that is the Rangers series of 2014. Throw that one out and there is still a case to be made that Penguins teams of the past lacked a killer instinct to put teams away. Even when they would win series, they would too often leave the door open for opponents or let series go an extra game or two.
That all changed last year. In more than one series — ones with the Rangers and Capitals come to mind — the Penguins were verbally adamant about ending these series the first chance they had.
In round one, they didn’t want to go back to MSG for a game six — so they dismantled the Rangers 6-3 on home ice. In last year’s Capitals series, they dropped one game in DC when the Caps were facing elimination, but not wanting any parts of a Game 7 on the road, took care of business in Game 6.
You never want to count your eggs before they’ve hatched, but the Penguins have been the far better team through the first three games of this series. With the other series in the East being neck and neck, and the Penguins eventual second-round opponent playing an unexpected two consecutive OT games to start the series, the Penguins have a great opportunity to help their own cause by disposing of the Blue Jackets in short order.
Here’s to hoping this series doesn’t get past Game 5, and that the Caps and Leafs keep wearing each other out in total track meets. If not solely for the Pens’ benefit, then for the fact that it’s been a blast to watch.