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Game 4 Recap: Sloppy Pens fall behind and can't quite catch-up. Lose first game

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The Pittsburgh Penguins put themselves behind the 8-ball yet again in Game 4 but this time they can't overcome their mistakes and play catch up losing what ends up being a 5-4 game in Columbus.

Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Pregame

No changes for the Penguins for Game 4 from Game 3.

A bunch of changes for the Blue Jackets. Forwards Matt Calvert returns from suspension and Lukas Sedlak makes his 2017 playoff debut - with Scott Hartnell and Sonny Milano out. Defensively with Zach Werenski injured and out for the season, Kyle Quincey has to draw in for the first time this series.

1st period

The Pens get an early power play but do nothing with it. Play pretty even, CBJ blocking a ton of shots, shooting a ton of their own but nothing particularly dangerous until winning an offensive zone draw back to the point that Jack Johnson fires to the net. A bit of bad luck with this one hitting the skate of Sidney Crosby and going into the net to give the home team a 1-0 lead.

Columbus gets a power play later in the period after captain Nick Foligno fakes getting high-sticked, but fittingly they're unable to generate much.

Pens can't get out of the period only down a goal though, as Brian Dumoulin makes a turnover trying to go up the middle of the ice (gotta live with that in this system). But Dumoulin doesn't recover well with Josh Andersen bounding on in to the net and Fleury opens up his 5-hole and Andersen pretty softly skitters it in, possibly off of Ron Hainsey as well. 2-0 Columbus.

So, much like Game 3 the Pens down 2 goals after 20 minutes. Not a great effort, Columbus is playing like a team with their season on the line, Pittsburgh just kind of showed up at the rink. Shots 13-5 Jackets, shot blocks are 8-6 Columbus.

2nd period

Nothing changes early in the 2nd, unlike past games the Penguins don't offer an immediate push-back and even give up another goal when defenseman Markus Nutivaara leads a 2-on-1. He shoots, Fleury can't absorb the shot and Dumoulin's weak clearing effort doesn't work resulting in another shot and another Fleury rebound that Nutivaara collects again, and actually looks like he whiffs on the shot but his changeup goes 5-hole on Fleury.

Pittsburgh finally shows a pulse and scores a goal on the power play. Justin Schultz sends in a point shot that Crosby deflects right to Patric Hornqvist who's able to spin and ramp it by Sergei Bobrovsky - a goalie who's had basically nothing to do up to this point but make 7 or 8 easy saves. Now it's 3-1 at least and the Pens have drawn a little blood.

Late in the period the Pens pour it on and Hainsey gets a shot in a weird angle that Bobrovsky can't squeeze and it's 3-2.

All Pens late in the period, finally engaged in this game.

3rd period

27 seconds in Columbus strikes. Ian Cole blocks the shot to behind the net but Fleury very lackadaisically stands around and William Karlsson is able to swoop around and toss the puck in to extend the lead back to 2 goals at 4-2.

Luckily, though the Pens keep pushing and their 4th line creates their first goal of the series and it's an important answer to bring Pittsburgh back within one. Nice finish by Tom Kuhnhackl 4-3 like that.

The good luck doesn't continue, Columbus answers the answer with Fleury again drifting from the net and unable to absorb the puck so it bounces around until the Jackets can pop it home to make it 5-3.

Back and forth we go, Pittsburgh takes a last minute penalty and run a "power play" PK that sees Jake Guentzel score another goal in another game in the last minute. It ends up too little too late, but another nice reminder that the Pens are pretty much scoring when they generate chances, they just need to fight a little more to generate more chances.

Game ends 5-4.

Some Thoughts

  • Mike Sullivan summed it up after the game: "I know we're better. I know we will be better. But we certainly weren't good enough tonight."
  • "We weren't committed to playing the game the right way."
  • Can parse and breakdown every detail and assign blame, but what's the point? The team didn't play that well; again started flat as they have almost every game this series, and probably everyone made mistakes you can't have for winning hockey this time of year.
  • Further it seemed like a lot of the bounces that were going the Pens way early, didn't tonight. That's life. Those things even out.
  • Additionally, Columbus had the 4th best record in the league. Backs to the wall, playing for pride at home. No one wants to go out a chump. Add in getting some good breaks (which, a real man makes his own breaks, which they also did put themselves in good position to get good bounces), and they weren't going to be swept on this night. Nice job by them with some gumption and fortitude.
  • At the same time, the Pens played poorly and lost by 1 goal. They were 1 goal down at points in the 3rd for several chances. About the strength of the Blue Jackets, when they're really clicking, is Bobrovsky showcasing himself as the best goalie in the world. Pittsburgh's had no problems scoring on him. That's very good. Sucks to lose, but the problem isn't that Bobrovsky is better than them- the problem is much more correctable. The Pens must come out stronger from the get-go next game and show more investment and match the desperate emotion of the team they're playing who know they can't lose and play as hard as that accords.
  • Let's see if the Pens learn that lesson. They generally were able to correct and match emotion/effort last year when ahead after a little push-back. Ideally that's the same here, but obviously the Jackets aren't going down without a fight.

And that fight comes on Thursday night in Pittsburgh. All things considered, big picture, if last week I told you the Pens bring a 3-1 lead back to PPG Paints for a Game 5 chance to end the series, you'd take that 100 times out of 100. Now it's up to the Pens to give a better effort and finish 'er out.