Making their return to the playoffs for the first time since 2009, the Columbus Blue Jackets came into the first round as big-time underdogs against the loaded Pittsburgh Penguins. If Game 1 was any indication of how this series will go, fans are in for a treat.
Columbus showed no fear early on, hemming the Penguins into their own zone and forcing the pressure. A Derek MacKenzie short-handed goal in the opening minute of the second period gave the Jackets a 3-1 lead, and the ice appeared to be tilting towards the inexperienced club. However, it wouldn’t last long. Pittsburgh scored three unanswered, and took Game 1 by the score of 4-3.
It was an impressive game for a Columbus team making just its second playoff appearance in franchise history. That said, based on quotes heard afterwards, they could care less about respectable losses.
“We aren’t here just to go to school. We’re here to win,” coach Todd Richards said. “We got our feet wet. We know what to expect, and we’ll get focused for Saturday now.”
Veteran defenseman Jack Johnson added, “This is a war of attrition. We weren’t timid or anything. We’ll regroup and be ready for Game 2.”
Richards went on to critique the play of his Vezina-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, specifically the go-ahead goal he gave up to Brandon Sutter.
“I’ve seen him make that save a thousand times. A thousand times. It’s one that got by him.”
While the rest of the hockey world sees Columbus as a team just happy to have been invited to the party, that’s certainly not the case inside the Jackets locker room. There are hardly any moral victories in the regular season, and none to be had come playoff time. No team brags about that time they played their hearts out in an elimination loss. It’s what’s on the scoreboard that counts, and Columbus is well aware.
To be fair, there are some positive takeaways despite the loss, none of which involve the idea that they only lost by one to a stacked opponent. Early on, it certainly appeared they had Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury rattled. A couple of their goals were saves the embattled Pittsburgh netminder should’ve had, and if the Jackets can increase the pressure on him, it could be a game-changer.
More importantly, if Columbus was supposed to be intimidated in this series, it certainly didn’t show. They dictated the action through large chunks of the game, hardly looking as overwhelmed as they did in ’09 against the Detroit Red Wings. For a reference point, the Jackets scored more goals last night than they did in the first three games of their series against Detroit back then.
Again though, these are just positives, things the team can build on as they prep for Game 2. There are no participation awards in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, no trophies given to the plucky wild card who just barely lost in the first round. From the sound of it, this is something Columbus is preaching. They’ll need every bit of this mentality if they want to turn this into a real series.