PITTSBURGH — The Columbus Blue Jackets delivered 51 hits on the Pittsburgh Penguins and put 40 shots on goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
They played the right way to win a road playoff game.
But when Game 2 of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal game was over, the Penguins owned a 4-1 win and a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
“Patience is an important element,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We have the ability to be a quick-strike team.”
Call it being patient, or businesslike, or calculating, or playing to their strengths. However you characterize what the Penguins are doing in this series, just know that it is working effectively.
The Blue Jackets have started strong in each of the first two games, and have attacked the Penguins forcibly with a heavy forecheck. The Blue Jackets had 80 shot attempts in Game 2, according to their coaching staff. They have not played poorly, but they have been outscored 7-2, counting an empty-netter in Game 2.
Columbus coach John Tortorella said he didn’t have a single complaint about his team in Game 2.
“We played the way we needed to play,” Tortorella said, adding that he was “anxious to get our suits on again and get at it in our building.”
The series is shifting to Columbus for Games 3 and 4 on Sunday (CNBC, 6 p.m. ET) and Tuesday (CNBC, 7:30 p.m.).
The fact that the Blue Jackets have been executing at a determined level and have no wins speaks to how sharp the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins have been in the first two games.
“There is a sense in desperation in everything we do,” Penguins defenseman Ian Cole said.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, filling in for injured goalie Matt Murray, has stopped 70 of 72 shots and the Penguins have blocked 45 shots over two games.
“Guys are sacrificing their body, and hoping to help Marc as much as we can,” said Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz.
Given his .972 save percentage, it doesn’t seem as if Fleury has needed much help.
“It’s just Flower being Flower, doing his job,” Schultz said.
And Sidney Crosby is being Sidney Crosby, and Evgeni Malkin is being Evgeni Malkin. Crosby registered a goal and two assists, and Malkin scored. Both players have three points over the first two games.
Crosby scored the first goal of the game at 8:31 of the first period on Pittsburgh’s first shot of the game. The Blue Jackets had controlled play to that point.
“I thought we played better after they scored,” Tortorella said.
Patience. Patience. Patience. The Penguins just did what they do, play their game until they got their opportunity. The Sid and the Kids line, with Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary, had 10 shots on goal and two goals in Game 2.
Crosby set up Guentzel for a goal to regain the Penguins’ lead less than a minute after the Blue Jackets had tied it 1-1 on a goal by Brandon Saad.
“They were a threat on most shifts,” Sullivan said. “They are determined guys. Sid leads the charge there.”
The trio uses quickness and slipperiness to dominate down low. “They play with a lot of courage,” Sullivan said.
He believes the line is one of the most dangerous in the game today.
“The way (Crosby) plays below the goal line — I don’t think there is a better player in the game,” Sullivan said. “He’s so strong. He can create and separate to try and make the next play. That’s what allows those three guys to jell together.”
The Blue Jackets will have the last line change in Columbus, meaning they will have the matchups they want. That won’t change the Penguins’ game plan or their emphasis on patience.
“We will just keep playing the game we want to play,” Sullivan said.
Don’t think for a second that the Blue Jackets are discouraged. They believe if they find some “puck luck” they will climb back in the series.
“We’ll come back with some confidence,” Tortorella said. But if the Penguins play as sharply as they have, it may not matter.