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Pens vs. Blue Jackets Recap: PHIL THE THRILL BABY

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Phil Kessel scores 2 goals, including one in OT to send the Penguins to a 5-4 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets

Lineups

The Penguins insert Chad Ruhwedel back in the lineup at the expense of Matt Hunwick (healthy scratch). The forwards are the same 12, but new look to separate Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel on different lines again, aka playoff form.

The Blue Jackets welcome back RW Josh Anderson who has been injured and out since Feb. 26th.

1st period

The Pens start out well with six of the game’s first eight shots, but the Jackets 4th shot on goal end up in the net. Artemi Panarin draws out Ruhwedel and makes a nice pass through (uhhh, ya think) and the rest of the Pens aren’t in good shape defensively either. The puck ends up with Zach Werenski who has stepped up from his point position into a wide open slot, a full stride ahead of Phil Kessel. Werenski gets the puck and backhands a weak puck that somehow leaks through Matt Murray and a 1-0 CBJ lead 5 minutes into the game.

A few minutes later Patric Hornqvist takes a boarding penalty 200 feet from his net. It’s a bad call since Ian Cole barely even goes into the boards at all, but Hornqvist still stuck his leg out and put himself in a bad position. On the PP Thomas Vanek makes a nifty pass to spring Werenski from the blueline in on a breakaway, big stop by Murray to keep Werenski from scoring again.

Tom Kuhnhackl does the first good thing in months and draws a penalty. Before the power play can cycle on, Matt Calvert gets a pass and takes a shot on Murray from point-blank range but the goalie makes a HUGE save to keep it 1-0.

It doesn’t stay 1-0 for long, with Phil Kessel on a breakout, PK defender extraordinaire Ian Cole gives Phil plenty of cushion and Kessel takes advantage of it, snapping a shot over the glove of Sergei Bobrovsky for his 32nd goal on the year and to tie the game at 1.

The tie doesn’t last long, Columbus scores off a rush that sees Ruhwedel and Olli Maatta collide, Ruhwedel fall and Maatta take off the to the right side of the ice. Matt Calvert dekes past Maatta on his off-side and into open space. In that space he gets Murray moving to his left so he backhands a shot right and it’s in. 2-1

Pittsburgh ties it up with 4:24 to go, Justin Schultz takes a shot from the point that a Columbus defender partially deflects with his stick. The fluttering puck floats down toward the front of the net, where Hornqvist lives. He spins and hacks at the puck, essentially volleying it to steal a soccer phrase. Give him 7.2 on the Crosby scale of zaniness for that one.

Shots end up 17-10 Pittsburgh in the period.

2nd period

The Pens start the period pretty well. Noted piece o trash David Savard slashes Crosby behind the net that leaves Crosby hunched over in pain on the bench moments later. Malkin later gets the puck stolen by Calvert who quickly turns and darts between Oleksiak/Ruhwedel (there’s that name again!) for a mini breakaway. Murray stops it but Oleksiak’s stick rides into Calvert’s face so a penalty is drawn.

Columbus is able to cash deep into the power play. Vanek draws Brian Dumoulin close to him and Bonne Jenner finds lots of space down low. Vanek makes a great pass and Jenner is able to wrist one home past Murray right in front. 3-2 CBJ.

A bit later Bryan Rust takes a tripping penalty while skating back to play some defense and this time the PK holds, although not without some looks at the net for Columbus.

The Pens get their second crack at a power play late but fail to score.

Shots 11-10 Columbus in the 2nd period, 27-21 Pens overall.

3rd period

Pittsburgh gets a third power play chance early in the period when Jake Guentzel is accidentally high-sticked and late in it they tie the game for a third time. Kris Letang picks a corner and blows a high shot past Bob. 3-3.

And for a fourth time Columbus goes up a goal. Letang’s breakout is broken up and Cam Atkinson finishes right in front for a 4-3 lead.

And for the 4th time the Pens tie it up. Conor Sheary attaches rockets to his skates and flies up the ice. Bob stops his first attempt but Sheary finds the rebound and chops it over the pad from his knees before the #1 pair of Werenski and Seth Jones can find the puck or knock him over. Great effort and goal by Sheary 4-4.

Shots end up 14-8 Pens in the 3rd period and 42-29 Pens overall in the game.

Overtime

OT starts but it doesn’t end long. Murray makes a stop and Phil the Thrill picks up the puck. He basically goes coast-to-coast and ends the game from the left wing with an absolute laser to the top corner of the net. Pens win 5-4.

Some thoughts

  • If that’s Matt Hunwick (or Kris Letang) play in the first period like Chad Ruhwedel did, certain parts of the internet would be howling with rage. Not a very good game by Ruhwedel on the ice for the first 2 goals against, then also unable to close on the play Oleksiak took the penalty which led to the 3rd GA. Really gotta wonder at this point who the #6 defenseman is right now, but none of the options seem very great.
  • As it stands the Pens 3rd line (and 3rd D-pair) against the CBJ 1st line and 1st D-pair isn’t going to go well. Advantage Tortorella on getting that matchup and to the Jackets skaters for pouncing on it.
  • After 2 periods the Pens had a Corsi advantage at 5v5 of 38-21. A shot advantage of 27-15. Scoring chances up 23-13. 5v5 goals though were 2-1 Columbus through 2 periods.
  • Pittsburgh needs better goaltending from Matt Murray, no doubt about that. The first goal has to be stopped. Just has to. Even Werenski in his intermission interview admitted he was surprised it went in. The other two chances were bad defense and a nice skill play made by Vanek on the PP, not much blame on the goalie. But in close, playoff-type games, can’t afford to give up super-softies and Murray did early.
  • Jake Guentzel had 6 shots on goal. That’s good! He didn’t score so it’s now 1 goal in his last 18 games which is not as good. But one would think a 6 SOG game will help him, the more he fires the quicker something is going on.....By the way the other 1st liners (Crosby and Rust) had only 1 shot attempt a piece. That line could use a more balanced effort.
  • Josh Jooris only played 5 shifts and 3:13 so with 17 minutes played, Riley Sheahan was pulling in a ton of minutes. So too did Crosby (22 minutes) and Malkin (21). Get well soon, Derick Brassard!
  • So much for the many (myself included) who thought maybe Kessel needed to rest up. He looked A-OK out there tonight, or if he is banged up, it’s sure not affecting his game all that much. And he’ll get a few days off before the playoffs and probably be as good as he is gonna be. Good for the Thrill.
  • Gotta tip your cap to the Pens resiliency tonight. Four times they fell behind, four times they tied it up. Sheary’s effort was unreal.
  • And after Atkinson’s goal the Pens held Columbus without a shot for 12+ minutes and almost all the way to the end of regulation.
  • Playoff type of atmosphere, easy to see this one turning into a series in the future. First OR second round, I wouldn’t be shocked.
  • Quietly, a season sweep for the Pens over CBJ. 2 of the wins were shootout though, so that takes a bit of the luster out of it, but 4 wins in 4 games is 4 wins in 4 games.
  • Tonight’s win assures that Pittsburgh won’t be the wild card #2 team, Philly will finish behind the Pens no matter what. The Pens have ROW tiebreakers over NJD and CBS and are 1 point ahead as well, so all Pittsburgh needs is an OT/SO loss to OTT tomorrow (or better yet a win) and they’re locked into 2nd place in the division. Or if both NJD+CBJ lose tomorrow in any fashion, Pittsburgh’s taking the divisional 2 seed.

And now we are onto Game 82. It’s at home and there’s relatively little on the line but still things to play for. I’m sure Sidney Crosby will make it a point of pride to get to the 82 game mark for the first time in his career. Others will have milestones and important moments to get to, and no one likes to go into the playoffs on a low note. Still, after beating CBJ on the road in a huge game, the Pens have plenty to go home proud about.