Advantage Pittsburgh: Pens Top ‘Jackets with 4-3 Game 1 Win


Apr 16, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal (left) and left wing Chris Kunitz (middle) react after defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) scored a goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t pretty, but the Pittsburgh Penguins got the job done.

Fighting off a surging Columbus Blue Jackets’ squad, Pittsburgh captured a 4-3 victory in Game 1, and took a 1-0 series lead in this early playoff season.

Surrendering the opening goal of the game to ‘Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson, Pens’ forward Jussi Jokinen answered with a wrist-shot in the slot that grazed past Columbus’ goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky with 2:47 left in the period.

However, the equalizer only ignited the crowd for a mere moment, as former Pens’ forward Mark Letestu silenced the Pittsburgh faithful with a power-play tally, 45-seconds later. The period would end, with the score in favor of Columbus, 2-1, but the Pens would be the beneficiaries of a man-advantage opportunity to open the second stanza.

Recently re-inserted defenseman Kris Letang, whose had his puck management issues this season, turned the puck over, and saw ‘Jackets forward Derek MacKenzie register a shorthanded goal to put his team up 3-1, just 43-seconds into the second. But then, with the power-play coming to a close, forward Beau Bennett, who was sitting in the slot, re-directed a slap-shot from Matt Niskanen, to bring the deficit back to one.

Following an impressive set-up shot on Bennett’s goal, Niskanen knotted the game up at three with a twine-tickler of his own. Getting a feed from forward Evgeni Malkin, Niskanen wristed the biscuit right through Bobrovsky’s five-hole, to swing the momentum in Pittsburgh’s direction. A few quality chances for both teams here-and-there, the score would stay at three-all heading into the third period.

Tied at three, it wasn’t Sidney Crosby, nor Malkin, but the other center, Brandon Sutter who would give Pittsburgh their first lead of the game.

Receiving a dish from Bennett, and gliding down the right side of the ice, Sutter would wrist the puck through Bobrovsky’s wickets, and put the Pens up 4-3 with 11:42 left in the tilt. Allowing Columbus to manufacture just nine shots on goal in the third, it turned out to be their lowest amount in any period, and Sutter’s goal proved to be the game-winning tally, putting his team up 1-0 in the series.

Although Fleury gave up three goals, a couple of them weren’t necessarily his fault, considering the Pens’ defense was lackadaisical at best. Granted, Fleury was scrambling in the goal-crease at times, he still had enough in the tank to pull out the ‘W.’ Fleury stopped 31-of-34 shots.

Sutter was honored with the First Star honors, Niskanen got the Second Star, and ‘Jackets blueliner Johnson received the Third Star.

Malkin and Paul Martin each collected two assists. Bennett recorded two points (1G, 1A). And Crosby and Olli Maatta each had one dish.

Overall, from my end, the game was a little sloppy at times, and there seemed to be far too many defensive breakdowns. Pittsburgh was lucky to escape with a win. If they continue to perform like they did Wednesday, the Pens could be in for a grueling series.

Game 2 will be Saturday, in Pittsburgh, at the CONSOL Energy Center.

The contest can be seen on the NBC Sports Network, and is set to start at 7 p.m.