For 21 minutes, the Columbus Blue Jackets had Game 1 of the opening-round playoff series against the Penguins exactly where they wanted it. Despite playing in only their second playoff series in franchise history and having 12 players competing in their first playoff contest, the Blue Jackets looked like the more experienced team.
They outhit the Penguins, outchanced them and outscored them. They led by two goals after a short-handed goal by Derek MacKenzie in the second period that silenced the sellout crowd at Consol Energy Center.
“We were right where we wanted to be,” Columbus forward Brandon Dubinsky said.
Then the Blue Jackets came apart at the seams, unbuttoned by the Penguins’ skill and lost the game in the manner they feared most. They gave the Penguins power plays that allowed them to tie the score — two goals 45 seconds apart that breathed some life into the home crowd.
“We know their power play is dangerous,” said Columbus forward Brandon Dubinsky. “We have to make sure we stay disciplined. That’s the difference in the game.”
While some undisciplined penalties paved the way for the Penguins to tie the score, it was a bad turnover from rookie Boone Jenner that led to the winning goal.
Instead of getting the puck in deep, Jenner turned it over at the blue line. Sutter transitioned and a 2-on-1 break with Beau Bennett developed. Sutter used Bennett as a decoy and beat Bobrovsky for the game-winner, 4-3.
“Those turnovers at the offensive blue line with players going forward, those are tough to overcome,” Columbus coach Todd Richards said.
It would not be a stretch to say the better team Wednesday night did not win the game. And it would be equally fair to suggest the Blue Jackets let one slip away.
“Maybe,” said Columbus forward Mark Letestu, a former Penguins player. “We made mistakes. I don’t know if they’re youthful mistakes or inexperience. That play at the blue line, it’s something that has to go deep. We’ll address it. But again, we just have to let it go, move on and have a good game Saturday.”
Richards bristled at the suggestion his team let the game slip through their fingers.
“We had an opportunity,” Richards said. “Their power play is very good. They can steal momentum quick. And they were able to do that. But I wouldn’t say slipped away. They’re a tough team. They’re a very good offensive team, but I wouldn’t use slip away.”
It might be difficult to extract positives from a game they feel as if they should have won, but the Blue Jackets can gain some confidence from the way they played, especially in the first period when they dominated play for long stretches.
“We did some good things, things we can look back on and get those going in the second game,” Letestu said. “Some discipline cost us. We put them on the power play too many times and the puck play at the blue line…. We have to commit to getting pucks behind them. They’re a good transition team. They have some skilled guys and they made us pay.”
The Blue Jackets flew back to Columbus after the game and won’t return until Friday night. Game 2 is Saturday night and Letestu said his teammates have to have a short memory if they want to make this a series.
“We have to let this one go quick,” he said. “This is an investment. We’re prepared to go seven games or whatever it takes. We still have to pound them physically, hopefully wear them down and reap the rewards later on.”
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @rayfitt1.