Despite being down 2-0 in the series, the Columbus Blue Jackets felt confident coming into Game 3. They knew they’d be playing in front of their home fans and even though they lost the opening two games of the series, they were playing the right way. With some minor tweaks, the Jackets could get back in the series starting with a win in Game 3.
Game 3 Summary
Columbus grabbed their first lead of the series 11 seconds into the game when Cam Atkinson potted a rebound for his first of the playoffs. Atkinson scored again off a turnover and Zach Werenski sniped a wrist shot from the point on the power play to give the Jackets a 3-1 lead in the first six minutes of the game.
The Jackets faithful had the rafters inside Nationwide Arena shaking all the way through the first period. I had full confidence after a stellar first that the Jackets were in line to pick up their first win of the series. It looked as if they might cruise to a victory similar to that of the 7-1 thrashing they dealt the Penguins in the first regular season meeting between the two.
But the Penguins’ potent offense awoke in the second while the Jackets let up a bit. The energy in the building was drastically lower in the second frame as fans were trying to catch their breath after an incredible first period. Pittsburgh scored twice in the second to pull even after two.
In the third period, both teams created some good scoring chances. Pittsburgh took the lead with just over eight minutes to go on Jake Guentzel’s second goal of the night. Three and a half minutes later, Brandon Dubinsky scored his first goal of the playoffs off a rebound to tie the game back up 4-4. That score would hold up for the final four minutes to send the game into overtime.
You could feel the anxiety of the crowd during the overtime period. Jackets fans understood that a loss would create a giant hole. But most were still confident that somebody in union blue would net the game-winner to pull within one game in the series. Instead, Sidney Crosby found an open man in front 13:10 into OT who one-timed it past Sergei Bobrovsky. It was Guentzel once again. His hat trick goal pushed Pittsburgh ahead in the series 3-0.
Jackets Can’t Catch a Break
Fleury Leading His Team to Victory
Yes, it is a 3-0 Pittsburgh series advantage but nobody can convince me that the Jackets have been completely outplayed in the series. The Jackets haven’t dominated Pittsburgh. I’d be foolish to say that the Penguins aren’t the better team in this series. They’re the defending champs for a reason. But it seems that the majority of bounces have gone Pittsburgh’s way.
In the first two games, Pittsburgh won behind stellar goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury. He wasn’t even supposed to be playing this series. Their starter, Matt Murray, went down in Game 1 warm-ups with a lower-body injury. Fleury had a statistically below-average regular season but it has apparently worn off. He’s playing lights out.
The Jackets came out flying in Games 1 and 2 but Fleury didn’t allow a goal in the first period of either game. He only gave up two total goals in the first two games propelling his team to the 2-0 series lead.
A Lack of Luck
In Game 3, the Jackets’ offense finally came to life and were able to get a few bounces. But Pittsburgh scored two of their goals from a bounce off the back boards that went right to a guy on the back door. In the second period, no penalty was called when Phil Kessel wrapped his arm around Seth Jones’ shoulder in the corner. Less than a minute later, Pittsburgh scored their second goal.
The unluckiest break for the Jackets was Werenski getting hit in the face with the puck while Pittsburgh held possession in the offensive zone. Werenski, who had been the best defenseman for Columbus up to that point, had to exit play and bled all the way off the ice. Because Columbus failed to regain possession, the referees never blew the play dead. This essentially created a power play for the Penguins. Eventually, Evgeni Malkin buried home a rebound to tie the game at three.
Werenski came back in the third period after getting facial repairs. But he couldn’t play in OT because his eye swelled up to the point that he couldn’t see. His absence forced the Jackets to compete with only five defensemen in the overtime period. That disadvantage was one reason they ended up on the wrong end of the scoreboard. Werenski is now out for the rest of the playoffs with a facial fracture. This is a massive blow to their blue line but great news for the Penguins.
In overtime, Dubinsky missed a game-winning opportunity by an inch left, right or above Fleury’s mask. In what looked like a sure goal, Dubinsky fired a rebound shot off the top of Fleury’s head and out of play. It is registered as a save and that save ultimately kept Pittsburgh in the game before winning it just minutes later.
It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over
The Jackets have been the better team for many minutes during the series but have no wins to prove it. Now down 3-0, they have a huge mountain to climb. It’s one that very few hockey teams in the history of the league have ever been able to conquer. The last team that did, though – the 2014 Los Angeles Kings – went on to win the Stanley Cup. The team that pulled off the 3-0 comeback before them – the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers – also made a run to the Finals before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Jackets fans are hoping the air hasn’t vanished after a deflating loss in Game 3. They’ve played well enough in the series to have won a couple of games but it just hasn’t gone their way. The difference to this point has been a combination of the Penguins getting a few more breaks and the Jackets not being able to capitalize on their best scoring chances while Pittsburgh has been able to capitalize on theirs.
You know how the saying goes: “It’s not over until it’s over.” It’s highly unlikely that the Jackets come back from 0-3 to defeat the defending Cup champions. But if they do, it’ll start with a home win in Game 4 on Tuesday night. The Jackets have maintained a good mindset all year long of facing games one day at a time. We’ll see how they react to a heart-breaking loss in Game 3.