PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Matt Calvert’s first career playoff goal gave the Columbus Blue Jackets a badly needed boost. His second ended 4,493 days of futility for a franchise that is quickly morphing from laughingstock to something considerably more potent.
Calvert banged his own rebound past Marc-Andre Fleury 1:10 into the second overtime and the Columbus Blue Jackets earned their first Stanley Cup playoff win with a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.
Fleury stuffed the initial shot by Cam Atkinson but Calvert stood all alone at the left post. His first shot went into the goaltender’s right pad. He roofed his second into the top of the net to even the Eastern Conference quarterfinals at one game each.
Game 3 is Monday in Columbus.
“You always dream about being the hero in overtime,” Calvert said. “We battled for it and it didn’t come easy. We were down a couple goals at different times. The penalty kill was great when it had to be and it’s just a great feeling right now.”
The Blue Jackets trailed 3-1 after the first period, but Calvert’s short-handed goal 7:31 into the second changed the game completely.
“It gave hope to our guys,” Columbus coach Todd Richards said. “It was 3-1 at the time and we scored to make it 3-2. You could feel it on the bench. After that I felt we played a very strong game.”
Looked like it.
Jack Johnson eventually tied it with 6:01 left in regulation. Ryan Johansen also scored the first playoff goal of his career for Columbus. Sergei Bobrovsky overcame a shaky start to finish with 39 saves.
Brian Gibbons scored twice and Matt Niskanen added his second goal of the playoffs, but Pittsburgh was outplayed for much of the final three-plus periods. Fleury made 41 stops but was helpless on the game-winner.
“We have to be better,” said Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby, who had two assists but was held without a goal for the second straight game. “That’s really, I think, the bottom line. Right on through, whether it’s special teams or 5-on-5 we have to be better.”
The Penguins have dropped four straight home overtime playoff games and blew a chance to take a 2-0 series lead when they failed to bury the Blue Jackets early on. Pittsburgh, the best power play team in the NHL during the regular season, went just 1 for 8 with the man advantage, including 0 for 2 in overtime. Even worse, Columbus has two short-handed goals in as many games.
Both teams traded quality chances in the first overtime. Bobrovsky made an excellent blocker save on Crosby racing down the right wing and got a piece of Lee Stempniak’s rebound. Fleury stuffed R.J. Umberger from point-blank range earlier in the period.
There was no back-and-forth in the second extra session. Brandon Dubinsky started the winning play by finding Atkinson in front and Pittsburgh’s defence offered little resistance until the puck was on Calvert’s stick for the winner.
“We stuck with it and we just kept playing and kept going and we got a split in Pittsburgh and that’s what we wanted,” Calvert said.
The Penguins knew they couldn’t afford a repeat of the first 21 minutes of Game 1, when the Blue Jackets knocked them around while streaking to a two-goal lead before Pittsburgh rallied to escape.
This time, the start wasn’t the problem for the Penguins. It was everything else.
Gibbons scored the first two playoff goals of his career 54 seconds apart—including a nifty short-handed breakaway in which he undressed Bobrovsky—to give the Penguins a 2-0 lead before the game was 5 minutes old. The giddiness didn’t last long, for the Penguins or Gibbons.
Johansen scored before the power play expired and Gibbons, elevated to Pittsburgh’s top line midway through Game 1, did not return after colliding with Johansen midway through the first period. While a Niskanen shot from the point with 2:08 left in the first restored Pittsburgh’s two-goal edge, it only seemed to galvanize the Blue Jackets.
The Penguins earned back-to-back power plays early in the second period and somehow lost momentum. Some lethargic Pittsburgh passing set up a 3-on-1 short-handed breakaway for the Blue Jackets, with Calvert beating Fleury to bring Columbus within one. The disjointed effort by the Penguins deflated the bench and the building.
The wave carried over into the third, with Columbus eventually drawing even on Johnson’s power-play goal with 6 minutes to go before Calvert’s winner gave Columbus a taste of playoff success after 13-plus years of waiting.
“It’s a big step for us as a group and an organization,” Calvert said. “It felt great, and I’m sure we’re going to enjoy it tonight, but it’s a long series.”
NOTES: The Blue Jackets scratched forward Nick Foligno once again with a lower body injury but Foligno is optimistic he’ll be able to return for Game 3. … Crosby’s two assists moved him into third on the team’s career post-season scoring list. He now has 108 post-season points, trailing Jaromir Jagr (147) and Mario Lemieux (172). … Columbus D Fedor Tyutin missed the third period and overtime due to an undisclosed injury.