After opening the series 3-0, the Pens lost a 5-4 battle to the Jackets last night and the series will return to the ‘Burgh Thursday night. Columbus has a mountain of a challenge ahead to stay alive and I think the Pens finish them off tomorrow night.
Once again, the story writes itself as the Pens can’t get on the board early and let the Jackets control the pace of the game. As exciting as the Easter comeback was, the key to closing out the series on home ice will be playing a full 60 minutes (or longer if necessary). The ability to control momentum and pace of play are crucial for the Pens to keep the Jackets’ hopes crushed for a comeback.
Columbus made changes in game 4 that lead to their success, mainly not trying to only beat the Pens physically. Columbus adapted to the Pens talent and ability to move the puck around, which previously was so successful due to Jackets’ players chasing in their defensive zone. I still expect the Pens to use their puck movement and communication to beat the Jackets in game 5 though. They may have figured out how the Pens want to beat them, but I think the talent gap is too much for them to design successful defensive schemes.
Goaltending should not be a question for game 5. Fleury is obviously a playoff caliber goalie and one loss should not shake anyone’s confidence in his ability to get it done in game 5. The Pens are letting up too many shots early and not letting him get settled in. Tuesday night’s game featured 14 shots against in the first, which decreased to 13 in the second and 7 in the third. Pittsburgh put 6 on the net in the first, 12 in the second, and 13 in the third. This again shows the Pens need to come out faster and more aggressive to ensure they control the hockey game for 60 minutes as they are fully capable of doing.
In regards to Werenski’s facial injury, this kid is 19 years old and pretty freaking gutty to try and stick out that injury for the remainder of the game. I like that and tip my cap to him for playing through a brutal shot. What I don’t like about the situation is his need to post it to social media. Your team just lost the game and is down 0-3 in the series, but you want the world to see what your face looks like. Just seems like a move focused around the attention he knew he would get from it.
I don’t want to do any looking forward yet or analysis of second round play, so lets take a look around the rest of the league:
- NSH vs. CHI
- NSH leads this series 3 – 0 and I can’t say I saw this coming in the slightest, but kudos to them. I would love to see the mighty fall early, but I still can’t count CHI out of it in 4 games. I see this one wrapping up in 6 games.
- STL vs. MIN
- STL leads 3-0 and I did pick this upset in my bracket. Minnesota has had late season issues that carried over into the playoffs. I think Minnesota finds one win, but that’s it. Remember that is the same Blues team that dumped Shattenkirk…
- ANA vs. CAL
- QUACK, QUACK, QUACK. Being up 4-1 and the Flames lose that game… WOW. The Ducks now have a 3-0 series lead as the favorite against the Flames and I think they finish the sweep.
- EDM vs. SJS
- The only matchup in the west that isn’t 3-0, finds both teams with a pair of wins. I like Edmonton in this series, but could see it going either way. San Jose started very hot against EDM in Game 4 though and have more playoff experience.
- MTL vs. NYR
- Both teams in this series with a pair of wins as well. I think the Rangers are always hyped up a little too much for what I think is an offensively lacking team. Lets go with MTL in 7.
- OTT vs. BOS
- Charlie McAvoy is good, but not good enough to save this B’s team. Ottawa leads 2-1 in this series and I like Ottawa in this matchup. I think they take it in 6. Please don’t tell me the refs gave it to OTT.
- WSH vs. TOR
- The second most surprising series behind the Hawks 0-3 start is the Leafs picking up 2 of 3 against the Caps thus far. Pens fan need to be watching this matchup closely for a second round preview, again not going to over-analyze until we are done with CBJ. I REALLY want to see Toronto come out on top of this one, but I think the Caps rally for a game 7 series win.
Photo C/O: Pittsburgh Penguins (nhl.com/penguins)