Gene Collier: Series might be the craziest the Penguins have ever seen

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The NHL’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals are back in town, meaning the Penguins and their Columbus tormenters will meet along Fifth Avenue tonight to decide whose turn it is to win 4-3.

Other business on the agenda would be a determination as to which club should score first, thus guaranteeing that club a third loss in a series tied 2-2. Additional business will include identifying whether the winning team will overcome a two-goal lead or a three-goal lead.

Don’t know if you’re holding an Uptown vendor’s license, but, just for fun, try selling this on the pregame sidewalk:

“Who needs a four-goal lead? Who wants to be up by four in this series? Any takers?”

Probably not.

No one knew precisely what genus of postseason hockey would bubble forth from a mixture of Penguins and Blue Jackets, as it had never been attempted before last week, but it certainly doesn’t lack for bizarre narrative.

Nor evident pungency.

The series that arrives at a pivotal Game 5 tonight has further established an unprecedented level of craziness, being the first in NHL history to have the winning team in each of the first four games overcome leads of at least two goals.

“For back-and-forth and blown leads, for sure,” veteran postseason presence Jussi Jokinen said Friday when asked if this is the weirdest series in which he has taken part.

“There’s always momentum switches during the games, but I haven’t seen anything like this. Both teams have lost two-goal leads two times, and I think whoever has scored first hasn’t won a game yet. It’s been crazy.

“You can always sense when someone’s getting the momentum. When they got that power-play goal in the first period the other night, to make it 3-1, then we started taking more penalties and they kept coming for us. That’s playoff hockey.”

If the spectacle of both teams winning twice 4-3 and losing twice 4-3 and getting into overtime twice to balance that equation weren’t a strange enough brew, the Penguins turned it hard toward absurdity in the final seconds of Game 4.

Not to nitpick, but usually when you are leading by one goal in the final minute, the empty net is at the other end of the ice.

Marc-Andre Fleury, one of most effective Penguins on the pond until just such a moment Wednesday, instead vacated his own net to chase the puck into the backyard, the one in the Columbus attacking zone, with not five but six Blue Jacket skaters swooping in on him.

Fleury’s misadventures behind his own cage led to the tying goal, and his misjudgment on a Nick Foligno shot in overtime led to the series-tying goal, but the Penguins continued to insist in the ramp-up to Game 5 that they have far bigger issues than their goaltending.

“He was great all night,” James Neal said about Fleury after practice Friday. “He made big saves. We were sitting back on our heels from the first shift of the third period, and he was making save after save. He’s the least of our worries.”

If anything, Neal seemed worried primarily that this series is perhaps not the craziest thing he has seen around here in four failed springs.

“We’ve been in a lot of crazy series,” he said. “This one definitely doesn’t feel like the Philly series [when the Flyers eliminated the Penguins in a six games that included 56 goals and 309 penalty minutes two years ago]; that’s about the craziest I saw. And the first year I was here [2011] when we went into Tampa and came back with a 3-1 lead to our building, and we lost in Game 7.

“I haven’t played as much as some guys in the postseason, but I’ve played enough to know how things go — playoffs are hard. Being in a 2-2 series isn’t a bad spot, coming home. Momentum shifts with every goal.”

Of course, as I believe I’ve mentioned, the Penguins probably wouldn’t be in this borderline-precarious situation if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were playing in this series.

OK, technically they are, but a quick check of the data package through four games indicates that the Penguins’ two superstars have scored as many goals between them in this series as U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, who I’m pretty sure hasn’t skated one shift.

The next development thus appears obvious when it comes to buttressing this theme of galloping craziness.

Crosby will get a goal tonight, and then he will get a second, and Malkin will add his first goal since the eighth-grade picnic, and Columbus will win, 4-3.

In overtime, obviously.

Gene Collier:

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