Gene Collier: Game 1 looked very different



Wait, this is the playoffs?

Can’t be.

When it’s the playoffs, the Penguins score maybe two goals in a week and exit muttering toward the summer; they don’t score twice in 45 seconds and thrice in the first 40 minutes.

Two-Minute Warning: Penguins silence critics ... for now

Gene Collier has a few words for critics of the Penguins and a few criticisms for the football coach at Ohio State University. (Video by Melissa Tkach; 4/17/2014)

When it’s the playoffs, the Columbus Blue Jackets scatter to an array of beachfront communities; they don’t visit your town and ransack your house and throw your underwear out the window, among other indignities.

“They came hard; they forechecked hard and they were physical,” said Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen, who played such a critical role in the stabilization of Game 1. “In the third, we came out of our zone a little better. Worked the puck out. Their [defense was] pinching, so we knew at some point we’d catch them.”

When it’s the playoffs, the Penguins generally don’t suspect that something good is about to happen.

When it’s the playoffs, the on-ice officials generally display excellent vision and a robust understanding of the hockey rules; they don’t roam about tentatively as though they’re being introduced to the legal protocols of bull-riding.

This isn’t Wes McCauley’s first rodeo is it?

McCauley was the retreating zebra adjacent to Brandon Sutter as the Penguins centerman barreled unimpeded right down Fifth Avenue toward the Columbus net, or he was unimpeded until Fedor Tyutin impeded the snot of out him, raking him to the ice from behind in pretty much a perfect demonstrative seminar of that which results in a penalty shot.

But there was no penalty shot.

Worse, there was no penalty.

Two for mugging?

And yet there was, somehow, a penalty for Rob Scuderi, who had committed exactly one minor penalty all season, as it was determined the Penguins defenseman interfered with the Blue Jackets’ Matt Calvert in the neutral zone. That was fairly amazing as it appeared Calvert had not been interfered with so badly that he couldn’t put Scuderi in a headlock.

When it’s the playoffs, Marc-Andre Fleury often looks about as confident as a cat at a dog show; he doesn’t make back-to-back breath-taking saves in the closing seconds of a period to give the Penguins a chance to spring from a two-goal ditch back onto the postseason highway.

But there was Flower, stopping Mark Letestu at the doorstep with the score tied, 3-3, and 55 seconds left in the middle period, and the Flower was there again not 35 seconds later, when Calvert broke into the zone alone and swept toward the right post. Fleury went to his knees and plopped his right pad directly into the path of the shot that would have put Columbus ahead for the third time.

So really, this is the playoffs?

Can’t be.

When it’s the playoffs, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma stands accused not of maladjustment, but rather of non-adjustment, a strain of ostensible stubbornness disguised as allegiance to his system; he doesn’t shuffle the deck on line changes like a caffeine-pounding Vegas dealer.

But there was Beau Bennett, who had started on the top line, skating with Brandon Sutter on the third line that’s supposed to have a big production problem, and it was Sutter who rifled the winning goal in the third period as the Penguins took the opener of this Eastern Conference quarterfinal, 4-3.

“I thought we needed a little more on the first line next to Sid [Sidney Crosby] and Kuny [Chris Kunitz] after the first period,” Bylsma said. “I thought it was good for Beau Bennett as well to play with Sutter and [Lee] Stempniak. I thought Beau brought that a lot to the third line.”

Crosby appreciated the shuffling.

“Being down two goals, a lot of times you don’t get to correct the mistakes that put you in that situation,” Crosby said. “It was good that everybody stuck with it and it was great when the other power-play unit went out and got the goal to get us within one.”

That was when Niskanen fired one off Bennett’s stick and behind Sergei Bobrovsky to cut the lead to 3-2, and it was Niskanen again blasting away from the left circle to tie it.

“I wouldn’t say putting me on the power play made a lot of difference but I seemed to get some good looks at the net,” said Niskanen, who had a goal and an assist on the power play. “I was trying to find shooting lanes and was able to find Beau’s stick for a nice tip and then just a quick shot that I think surprised them.

“I got to play on the power play a little more [Wednesday night] than I anticipated, but I enjoyed it.”

Perhaps most importantly, Fleury enjoyed it as well. His stop on Ryan Murray with 63 seconds to play and the Penguins protecting that one-goal lead brought a chorus of chants from the assemblage.

When it’s the playoffs, they usually don’t chant “Fleur-ree, Fleur-ree.”

Wasn’t it “Vo-koun, Vo-koun?”

So these so-called playoffs looked suddenly very different.

Perhaps it’s a good thing.

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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