PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Sidney Crosby, out. Evgeni Malkin, out. Chris Kunitz, late scratch.
With Pittsburgh’s top three goal scorers injured, there was no way Columbus would get embarrassed again by the Penguins.
Rick Nash and Jakub Voracek each had a goal and an assist to lead the Blue Jackets past the Penguins 4-1 on Tuesday night.
Samuel Pahlsson and Antoine Vermette also scored for Columbus, and Steve Mason was sensational in net with 32 saves.
The Blue Jackets avenged a 7-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 4, when Crosby had two goals for the Penguins. At the Consol Energy Center, Crosby was missing for the 14th straight game.
In the first meeting, not only did the Penguins win in a blowout, they turned Columbus into Penguins territory. The capacity crowd in Ohio was bolstered by several thousand Penguins fans, many wearing Crosby’s No. 87 sweater.
This time, a fast 3-0 lead silenced the fans.
“I was frustrated after that. That was embarrassing, especially for myself, people watching it back home, and to see our team represented that way,” Blue Jackets centre R.J. Umberger said. “Tonight, it was in the back of our minds but, more than anything, the two points were first in our mind.”
Tyler Kennedy spoiled Mason’s shutout bid with a power-play goal in the third period to make it 3-1. But by then, it was too late for the decimated Penguins.
Pittsburgh added centre Kunitz to an injury list that already includes Crosby (concussion) and Malkin (knee). Kunitz has a lower-body injury and is day to day.
Crosby, Malkin and Kunitz have combined for 65 goals this season. No Penguins player in the lineup Tuesday night had more than 10 goals.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he talked to Kunitz about 90 minutes before the game and expected to have him in the lineup. But 30 minutes before the start, Bylsma was told Kunitz was out.
“I don’t think that was the reason why, or not having other players in the lineup, was the reason why we weren’t able to have success tonight,” Bylsma said.
Crosby is skating on his own away from the team and has kept in touch with Pittsburgh’s trainer. The Penguins clearly won’t rush his return—but it’s clear they need him.
They lost their second straight game with Crosby and Malkin out. Malkin was lost last week to two torn ligaments in his right knee. The Penguins are faced with the grim possibility of playing without their top two stars the rest of the season.
“I’m not going to play any different just because those two are out and I don’t think anybody else should either,” Kennedy said.
There was no sympathy from Columbus. The Blue Jackets won their third straight game as they make a late push for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Their offence could be heating up at the right time, as Columbus has scored at least three goals in four straight games.
“We’re in the race now and we’re trying to climb in the standings,” Pahlsson said. “We need every point we can get now.”
Nash scored on a one-timer from the right circle for a 1-0 lead in the first. He dropped to one knee to send his 24th goal of the season past Marc-Andre Fleury, who was tied for second in the NHL with 25 wins.
The Blue Jackets built a 3-0 lead in the second to quiet the 195th straight sellout crowd at the sparkling Consol Energy Center.
Umberger, a Pittsburgh native, fired a shot off Fleury that Pahlsson knocked in for a 2-0 lead. The goal was reviewed on replay.
Nash assisted on the third goal with a floating pass from the neutral zone that a hustling Voracek chased down and flipped past a diving Fleury to all but wrap up the victory.
Mason, who surely enjoyed not having to face Crosby and Malkin, was fantastic in net, making glove saves look easy.
“When you take those two top guys out of the lineup, it’s a big loss for them. But I’m sure they aren’t making any excuses over there,” Mason said. “They still have to fight through injuries, just like everybody else has to in the league, and they still had a pretty good game tonight.”
Vermette stuck with the puck around the net and knocked in his own rebound late in the third for his 13th goal and a 4-1 lead.
NOTES: Kunitz has 18 goals and the Penguins are 12-2-1 when he scores. … The Blue Jackets won their fourth straight road game. … Bylsma has 99 career wins, one shy of becoming the third coach in team history to reach 100. … The Penguins dropped to 0-12-1 when trailing after two periods.