The first round series between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins was supposed to be competitive. Given their recent records against each other and the fact they ended the season with separated by three points and the same number of wins, these two teams were supposed to be going the distance. At least six games, maybe seven was the common belief, but the Blue Jackets have not lived up to their expectations.
Game 1 wasn’t close for the Blue Jackets. Despite a last-minute injury forcing a change in starting goalie for the Pittsburgh Penguins, they could not rally any offense. The Penguins scored three goals in the second period and Marc-Andre Fleury held the Jackets to just one goal on 32 shots.
The frustration of the team showed in Game 2. After a lackluster end to the season and a flat Game 1, the Jackets played with aggression. Unfortunately, all that aggression still saw them lose the game, as well as lose forward Matt Calvert to a one game suspension. The Blue Jackets tied the game at one midway through the second period but Jake Guentzel and the Penguins took the lead again only 41 seconds later. The Blue Jackets were never able to answer. Then, near the end of the game Calvert took out his frustrations by violently cross checking Guentzel in the back, which resulted in his suspension.
Game 3 was the Blue Jackets best chance to win a game. They quickly jumped out into the lead when Cam Atkinson scored only 11 seconds into the game and then the team scored two more in the next six minutes. But they could not manage to hold the lead, allowing the Penguins to go up 4-3 in the third. A late goal by Brandon Dubinsky sent the game into overtime where Guentzel took his revenge on the Blue Jackets by capitalizing on a Sidney Crosby pass to complete his hat trick and win the game for the Penguins 13 minutes into overtime.
The efforts by the Blue Jackets have gotten increasingly better with every game, but at this point it may be too late for them. Being down 3-0 in the series most likely spells out the end for the Jackets this year. The Blue Jackets will come out with a strong showing in Game 4 on Tuesday night, but it will be too little, too late. Especially without one of their top two defenseman as Zach Werenski was hit in the face with a shot and will be out for the season. Despite their impressive season the Blue Jackets will go out with little more than a whimper.
Just as the series between these teams in 2014, there has been a noticeable amount of animosity, mostly coming out of the Blue Jackets side. With Calvert’s suspension and Dubinsky’s constant harassment of Crosby, the Blue Jackets have attempted to slow the skill of the Penguins by grinding them down physically. It has not worked.
The Blue Jackets are a skilled team. They showed that all season with a 16 game winning streak and three blowout victories against the Montreal Canadiens, New York Islanders, and the Penguins themselves, 10-0, 7-1, and 7-0 respectively. Instead of focusing on grinding the Penguins down, maybe they should start to focus on putting the puck in the net. Coming back from 3-0 in a series has been done before, and it can be done again.