Kukla's Korner Hockey
from Aaron Portzline of Puck-Rakers,
Nationwide Arena is mostly empty this morning, save for a few workers milling about. Blue Jackets coaches arrived early to do what they do -- review film, get updates on injured players, strategize for Saturday's Game 5 -- but players were given a day off to rest weary legs and bruised bones.
Still, there was an afterglow in Nationwide, a lingering electricity from the Blue Jackets' rousing 4-3 overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday.
"I slept very well last night," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. He may have gone to bed late, though, like many others in Columbus.
One got the sense last night that our city was transformed in some way. Yes, it's had major league sports here for more than a decade, but the Blue Jackets -- to many -- joined the big leagues last night, and they dragged central Ohio along with them.
Last night's game had all the elements in place to be a lifelong memory. You could say it had Babe Ruth calling his shot and Bill Buckner flubbing an easy grounder, all rolled up into one hockey game.
from Ryan Dixon of Sportsnet,
Crosby can’t be held without a goal much longer; Evgeni Malkin is probably on the verge of a four-point game; Fleury is going to make some more jaw-dropping saves. And when it happens, we’ll all be tempted to once again believe in this giant Cup tease.
But that faith is misplaced. As Josh Yohe of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review pointed out, of the Pens’ past 20 playoff losses dating back to 2010, nine have occurred after the team blew a third-period lead. Fleury? Sure. But that’s about more than goaltending; that’s about a team with systemic issues that won’t be worked out this spring.
The best approach for Penguins fans right now, difficult as it may be, is to embrace the ride. And from a tactical standpoint, you wonder if Pittsburgh shouldn’t actually try to blow teams out of the water. It sounds crazy, but protecting leads clearly isn’t working. Maybe they need to further exploit Sergei Bobrovsky’s .900 save percentage and stretch those goal gaps out as much as possible.
That may run counter to conventional playoff thinking, but at least Pittsburgh would be playing to its strength instead of trying to be something it’s not.
NHL.com followed both the Dallas Stars and Columbus Blue Jackets into the dressing room after their wins last night.
It is not often you get to see a coach talking to his team post-game.
The Dallas Stars are up first...
Then the Columbus Blue Jackets...
from Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,
Fleury's toast now. He's a train wreck that not even a team of the planet's most advanced sports psychologists could cure. He'll give up floater after floater in Game 5 and beyond, right up until the Penguins are eliminated and, then, spend their summer searching for another franchise goaltender.
If I know my city, the invectiveness sprayed at TV sets across Western Pennsylvania was all that and a whole lot uglier.
Well, count me out.
Don't misunderstand, please. Fleury blew it. He blew it big-time. He had no business straying from his net or conceding Foligno's shot from somewhere south of Cincinnati. He let the team down when it needed him most.
But sorry, this just doesn't come with the same feel of the Fleury we've seen flop in years past.
I remember Fleury on Long Island last spring, ramming his forehead against a cement-block wall at the back of the locker room. He was a mess of the worst kind. Dan Bylsma didn't want to turn to Tomas Vokoun, but he had no choice.
This just isn't that. Not yet, anyway.
more and below, watch the game tying goal and OT goal by Columbus to even the series at 2 games...
from Aaron Portzline of Puck-Rakers at the Columbus Dispatch,
This first-round series between the Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins has made for immensely compelling hockey. The Blue Jackets must exert their will to keep the Penguins from exerting their skill.
Last night, the Jackets had the Penguins tangled and frustrated for the better part of two periods before a delirious crowd of 19,148 in Nationwide Arena, which hosted its third-ever Stanley Cup playoff game, the first in five seasons.
But all of the Jackets’ good work came unraveled in a dizzying span of 2:13 of the third period, when the Penguins scored three goals to take a 4-3 lead and, eventually, a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
Game 4 is Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Nationwide.
“I don’t think Game 4 can come fast enough for us,” Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson said.
from Aaron Portzline of Puck-Rakers,
The Blue Jackets will be backed by a sold out crowd in Nationwide Arena tonight -- the diehards who have endured all along, those who drifted away and have fallen back in love, and the newbies who are getting their first look at the greatest spectacle in sports ... the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said he was concerned about his players getting too caught up in the emotions of the moment and suffering an energy crash as the game moves along. But mostly he's excited, too:
"The city has earned this, the fans have earned this," Richards said. "There will be great energy in here. We've seen it before (against Nashville in the last game of last season), but it's going to be elevated here tonight."
from Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review,
The Blue Jackets had no business getting back in this game. Bylsma left the screen door open. Columbus had been dangerous on the penalty kill all season and had scored a short-handed goal in Game 1. There was no reason to take a chance.
Sure enough, Malkin fumbled a puck at the right point. He escaped unscathed. He then was victimized at the left point, which led to a 2-on-1 and Matt Calvert's short-handed goal.
This was sheer Penguins arrogance — and it changed the game for good. They never recaptured control. After outshooting the Blue Jackets, 15-4, in the first period, they were outshot 41-27 the rest of the way.
Afterward, Bylsma explained that he went with four forwards because it worked so well during the regular season. That is true. The Penguins had the league's top-ranked power play. But the playoffs are a different animal. Coaching staffs have way more time to break down opponent's special teams. They look for weaknesses.
The latest from Rick Gethin at Fox Sports Ohio regarding the Columbus Blue Jackets:
Ahead of Game 2, RJ Umberger is making his return to the lineup after being out with injury. Although he has been to the playoffs before, this is a big game for him. He's a Pittsburgh native that calls Columbus home now.
Columbus head coach Todd Richards was asked what he expects from Umberger in Game 2. "I'm expecting him to come out, play fast and play big. He's one guy, what he's done well consistently all year for our team is he's gone to the net and played hard at the net."
from Scott Burnside of ESPN,
Columbus Blue Jackets
When you're making just your second playoff appearance in franchise history, "dark horse" is a label that applies. If they are somehow able to take down the Metropolitan Division-winning Pittsburgh Penguins, we'll upgrade them to Cinderella status. Could it happen? When you have the defending Vezina Trophy-winning netminder in Sergei Bobrovsky, that's a good place to start....
Detroit Red Wings
When was the last time you heard "Detroit Red Wings" and "dark horse" in the same breath? Still, that's what they are, as they will face the NHL's top regular-season team, the Boston Bruins, in the first round. This has been a difficult season for the Red Wings, who have gone long stretches without top players Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen and Jimmy Howard. But a new generation of Red Wings has emerged, led by scoring sensation Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco and Riley Sheahan, which has more than picked up the slack. With Datsyuk back in the lineup and Howard back to form after a rocky season, the Wings don't look like a wild-card team....
We're going to start charging Wild GM Chuck Fletcher for our services. The team has been on a tear since we wrote that the common belief was the Wild would boast the NHL's worst playoff goaltending and certainly the worst goaltending of the eight Western Conference playoff teams. The goaltending remains a potentially fatal flaw for a Wild team that has shaken off late-season stutters to play some of its best hockey of the season....
more on each of the three teams...
from Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch,
The Jackets are hurting. Nathan Horton (abdominal surgery) is out. Nick Foligno (knee) and R.J. Umberger (upper body) are still mending. Among the three are 1,700 regular-season and 86 playoff games worth of experience. The youngest team in the league is missing its prime veteran forwards as the series gets underway. That is killer.
There is this notion that Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury — a former No. 1 overall draft pick who is in his prime — might somehow falter, and thus give the Jackets a chance. I don’t buy it.
<> Fleury is coming off one of the best regular seasons of his career. What is he going to be thinking about? That he has the worst playoff stats of any goaltender over the past 10 years? That he was so brutal, he lost his job in the middle of the first round last year? That he is somehow inferior to Bobrovsky?
Come on. That would be like saying the Penguins don’t like getting hit.
So, never mind that the Penguins have lost to a lower seed in each of the past four seasons. The Jackets don’t have a chance.
from Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette,
About Kukla's Korner Hockey
Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.
Email Paul anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org