|If you think this Photoshop job is bad, it's an upgrade to the acting in "Silent Night, Deadly Night." True story.|
The Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus, ahem, Blue Jackets met for...
(...okay, okay let's get this out of the way right now: thank you, Columbus, for giving the rest of the NHL an absolute joy of an acronym to snicker at...)
...the second time this season on Thursday night at the Consol Energy Center; or, as I now like to refer to it, "Home to 360+ More Consecutive Sellouts Than the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center."
The BJ's beat the Penguins 4-3 back on December 13th. The game was a spirited affair with a number of bogus calls affecting both teams. Pittsburgh snapped back following a late two-goal collapse when Kris Letang knocked home the tying goal with just 11 seconds remaining in regulation.
The Penguins played the contest without the services of Sidney Crosby annnnnnd Zach Sill, while Columbus skated sans three players I have never heard of, and probably will never speak of again.
As everyone knows, the Pens defeated Columbus in the post-season last spring, and despite winning only two games (...ever) in the playoffs, the Blue Jackets' first year bandwagon fans now consider Pittsburgh their rivals, a fact that the Penguins' faithful finds pretty darn cute.
First Period Action:
The officials would pad their own fantasy stats early when David Perron was whistled off for high-sticking just a minute after the puck dropped at center.
During the BJ PP, Fleury made a remarkable glove save off of a Scott Hartnell deflection to keep Columbus off the scoreboard. Fleury would then stone Matt Calvert with a sprawling blocker save, a stop made possible because Calvert took a split-second too long to corral the cross-ice saucer pass from Brandon Dubinsky.
Dubinsky created another primo scoring chance for Columbus when he deked Crosby out of his skates in the slot before pushing a wrister into the chest of Fleury.
Craig Adams, touted PENALTY KILLER EXTRAORDINAIRE!, found himself whistled for interference following sustained Columbus pressure in the Pens' defensive zone. Adams would then watch Columbus whistle several pucks at Fleury, but the Penguin netminder continued his Vezina-worthy play and turned aside each attempt.
Malkin would get the Penguins' best scoring chance of the first period when he had a "Book of Mormon" opportunity on Columbus's doorstep, but #71 was unable to ring the bell.
By contrast, former Penguin villain Scott Hartnell got to sing "HELLLOOOOO!!" when he parlayed his slick telephone booth stickhandling in front of Fleury to a 1-0 Blue Jacket lead.
Hartnell's goal gave Columbus a well-deserved 1-0 lead, as his team's play to that point had warranted a multi-goal differential.
The first period siren would blare with the BJ's not sucking, as they outshot and out-chanced the home team.
Second Period Action:
For the second stanza, the Pittsburgh Penguins came out of the locker room a different team, which is to say that they weren't freaking awful (like they were in the first).
Sidney Crosby thought he had tied it 1:30 in when he fired a puck from the right post toward a wide open cage...only Curtis McElhinney would fling his mitt skyward and rob Crosby as though McElhinney was Sallie-Mae and the Penguin captain was a college student.
Pittsburgh seemed determined to simplify its own-zone breakouts (something that had plagued them in the first in the form of multiple giveaways), and as a result, began to dictate play.
Appropriately, Evgeni Malkin would get to act out the greatest scene in film history when he had his own version of "GARBAGE DAY!," banging home a Paul Martin rebound to tie up the game at 1-1.
Late in the second period, Sidney Crosby (finally) got tired of the Christian Grey-style abuse he had been taking from Brandon Dubinsky and dropped the mitts in what amounted to an evenly fought brouhaha in the corner near McElhinney.
With both players in the box, Hartnell busted out a Tomahawk Chop that would have made the Atlanta Braves proud, but the on-ice referees had apparently swallowed their whistles and the Penguins were not afforded their first power-play of the game.
Nick Foligno would grant the Penguins their first man-advantage when he was sent off for roughing shortly thereafter. With Crosby in the box and unavailable for the power-play, Kris Letang was denied in close by a McElhinney glove save.
Fedor Tyutin, the man with the best name in the NHL, threw Hornqvist to the ice after Hornqvist gave the Columbus goalie a love tap in the groin following the Letang shot.
The period would end with the score tied, and with the Penguins finally carrying some momentum and forcing the visiting Blue Jackets to play in their own end.
Third Period Action:
The Penguins started to roll only three lines early in the third (as crazy as not playing Craig Adams for 10 minutes may sound to the uninitiated, it's actually a good thing), and the result was two early Pittsburgh scoring chances.
Following a "Sidney Crosby Special" (blind backhanded pass in the offensive zone to nobody in particular, hereafter known as the BBPITOZTNIP), Evgeni Malkin would collect a Columbus turnover and whip a point-blank shot at McElhinney, but the Columbus backstopper dropped to the butterfly and handled his shot easily.
Crosby's line would overstay its welcome, and after Crosby put the Butter Creme on the puck (that's "icing" for you cake aficionados), the Blue Jackets would have the Pens in a tough spot defensively.
The Pens would get to change lines, but Sutter's third line would also have a difficult time clearing the zone. A bad Simon Despres turnover was negated, and with the neutral zone more clogged than a lower intestine after a 5 Cheese Dominos' pizza, the teams went into the first commercial break still trying to break the 1-1 deadlock.
Beau Bennett would give Columbus a chance to do just that when he was caught slashing a Blue Jacket player's stick.
And then, as was the case against the Capitals, the Penguins apparently decided that BOGO was the way to be with penalties, and with Maxim Lapierre being his usual worthless self and collecting a lazy high-sticking call, Pittsburgh gave their Ohio opponents a 5-3 advantage for over 1:30.
Marc-Andre Fleury, known in Harry Potter-speak as "He Who Shall Not Be Beaten," was stouter than Platform 9 3/4 in denying countless Blue Jacket chances. Cam Atkinson aided the Pens' cause when he missed a wide open net, and the Pens managed to hold and kill both penalties to bring the game back to even strength.
Columbus continued to pressure the Penguins with multiple forecheckers, frustrating Pittsburgh's breakout efforts. Foligno would get the Blue Jackets' 3,172nd elite scoring chance of the affair (I'm not very good at counting), but Fleury's snow angel would deny him and somehow keep the game knotted.
Nick Spaling danced around like Kevin Bacon in "Footloose" and narrowly missed far side with a wrister. During the same possession, Brandon Sutter drew a penalty that put the Penguins' Due-Like-A-Woman-In-Her-44th-Week-of-Pregnancy power-play on the ice and with a chance to simultaneously exorcise their man-advantage demons and take the darn lead.
...but of course, the Blue Jackets would score a short-handed goal, and of course the goal scorer would be the devil himself, Brandon Dubinsky.
|"FOR THE LOVE OF GOD AND ALL THAT IS HOLY...."|
With 1:42 left and a faceoff in Columbus's end, Pittsburgh would pull Fleury in a last-gasp attempt to generate a tying goal. Once again, and much to the chagrin of Pens fans everywhere, the team in black & Vegas gold just couldn't muster an equalizer, and for the third straight game, the Penguins left the ice as the losing team.