COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Columbus Blue Jackets don’t feel they’re doomed after blowing a two-goal lead in a Game 1 loss of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It’s not about missed chances, or feeling sorry about it,” goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky said at Thursday’s optional workout, 13 hours after falling 4-3 in Pittsburgh.
The Blue Jackets had 11 skaters appear in their very first playoff game. Yet they played like wily veterans, building a 3-1 lead early in the second period. The Penguins came back with two power-play goals in the span of 45 seconds to tie it before Brandon Sutter’s game-winner midway through the third period.
“They’re a good team. They play hard. They have a good goaltender,” Sutter said. “They’re a well-balanced team. It’s going to be a tough series.”
The Blue Jackets flew home for a couple of practices before Saturday’s Game 2. Ten players skated Thursday morning, including injured forwards R.J. Umberger (shoulder) and Nick Foligno (knee). Umberger may be available Saturday, pending approval from doctors, while Foligno probably won’t play before Game 3 at the earliest.
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards liked his club’s gritty play in the opener. But he knows Columbus needs to cut back on penalties, tighten up on defence, and make better decisions with the puck in the neutral zone.
The Penguins appeared uncomfortable with the Blue Jackets’ physical, checking play. Frustrated Pittsburgh defenceman Kris Letang stuck his stick in the midsection of rookie Boone Jenner after a big hit to pick up a penalty. Star centre Evgeni Malkin appeared to take umbrage with a couple of Blue Jackets—including Russian Olympic teammate Fedor Tyutin—after hits.
“I’m not as concerned about frustrating them or driving them crazy,” Richards said. “I just want us to play hard. I thought we did that last night. But I think we can be better and work harder—and we’re going to need to be because I’m expecting (the Penguins) to be better.”
Umberger, a proud Pittsburgh native, said he wasn’t surprised by his team’s performance.
“We played to our identity. We were a heavy team and we had a lot of hits,” he said. “We were relentless. You could tell we were getting under their skins like we do.”
Richards put hard-nosed centre Brandon Dubinsky on the ice to shadow Penguins superstar Sidney Crosby most shifts. Crosby wasn’t much of a factor in Game 1.
“We have to learn from it but we found a way to win,” Crosby said. “Obviously we didn’t start the way we wanted, getting down two goals. I think we have to clean up some things, but it’s nice to get the first one.”
Foligno, who joked the game was much easier watching from the press box, is one of the few Blue Jackets who have been in the brightest lights of the NHL season. He said his youngest teammates—including 20-year-old defenceman Ryan Murray, 21-year-old leading scorer Ryan Johansen and the gritty 20-year-old rookie Jenner—were particularly impressive.
“This team is definitely trending in the right direction,” Foligno said. “We did a lot of good things to dictate the play, and if we continue to do that and then shore up some areas, we can give ourselves a real good chance.”
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