The Pittsburgh Penguins‘ fanbase didn’t foresee the first game in the 2014 NHL Playoffs going quite like it did for their favorite hockey team. Theyimagined a Penguins victory, but not one that had the home team having to battle back from a 3-1 deficit to capture a 4-3 victory.
After all, the Penguins were only playing the Columbus Blue Jackets; you know, the team that the Penguins defeated five consecutive times this regular season. Some fans were even declaring a prediction of a sweep, and although that might still hold true it certainly won’t be a cakewalk.
Quite frankly, you could tell that the Penguins needed a wake-up call — almost a reminder that this isn’t just a meaningless game to a team that has already locked up the Metropolitan Division and a playoff spot. This was the first round of the playoffs where nothing is guaranteed and everything must be earned.
The Blue Jackets did just that as they set the tone of the hockey game early, playing a physical brand of hockey that deserves credit and essentially did everything right except protect a two-goal lead when it mattered the most.
A pleasant surprise for the Penguins and their fans was not only the ability to crawl back and take Game 1 in this series, but the play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury made crucial saves when they mattered the most, and at times he was hung out to dry by a defense that was more worried about offense than the back end.
Game 1 was an exciting battle, and the NHL front office is probably hoping for more of the same for the duration of round one. This game had it all: Breakaways, horrible officiating and even the physicality that accompanies close playoff games.
As great as Game 1 was, if the Penguins are going to take a stranglehold on this series they will need to put more of a focus on the defense and play a smarter brand of hockey.
Needless to say, any Penguins fans who thought this was going to be an easy series got a rude awakening Wednesday night. The Blue Jackets are a tough team, and if the Penguins are going to skate on to the second round, they will make them pay for every inch.
At least it makes for great television.