This was, the Penguins said, precisely what they expected from Columbus.
And it was, the Blue Jackets said, exactly what they wanted to give to the Penguins.
And what they intend to give them again.
Bylsma discusses 4-3 win over Blue Jackets
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma discusess his 4-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center Wednesday night. (Video by Matt Freed: 4/16/2014)
Fans watch Penguins vs. Blue Jackets on big screen
Penguins fans gather around the big screen across the street from the Consol Energy Center to watch Game 1 of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Columbus Blue Jackets. (Video by Connor Mulvaney; 4/17/2014)
As long as this first-round playoffs series lasts.
The Penguins came away from Game 1 of the series Wednesday night with not only a 4-3 victory at Consol Energy Center, but with a renewed appreciation of the challenges the Blue Jackets present.
“That’s pretty much who they are, what we saw [Wednesday night],” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “They worked really hard, they forecheck hard. They finish checks, they play quick.”
The Penguins can do all of that, too, and did it well enough to overcome a two-goal deficit.
But they didn’t do anything to make Columbus believe it can’t get anything out of this series except an honorable surrender.
“That’s a good team,” goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said.” Good players. We can play with them.”
The Penguins actually had a couple of more good players than they have had lately as centers Evgeni Malkin, who had missed the previous 11 games because of a foot injury, and Joe Vitale, who had been out for 13 with an unspecified injury, returned to the lineup.
Pleased as the Penguins were with the victory — this is the eighth consecutive series in which they’ve had Games 1 and 2 on home ice, but only the second time they’ll have a chance to start 2-0 — there were facets of their game they will try to improve before Game 2 at 7:08 p.m. Saturday at Consol Energy Center, such as the defensive-coverage shortcomings cited by coach Dan Bylsma.
“We need to so some things better on Saturday,” forward Jussi Jokinen said.
Columbus was making just the second playoff appearance in franchise history, but it was the Penguins who seemed out of sorts early.
“We seemed a little hesitant, a little shaky, in the first 30 minutes,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said.
That showed on the scoreboard.
Columbus grabbed its first postseason lead at 6:20 of the opening period as Brandon Dubinsky carried the puck down the left side, beat Penguins defenseman Paul Martin, then threw a backhand pass to Jack Johnson in the right circle. Johnson took the puck to the net and pushed a backhander past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Penguins pulled even at 17:13, as Jokinen took a feed from Malkin and beat Bobrovsky.
The Penguins’ special teams ranked among the league’s best in the regular season and were a major factor in their success, but both the penalty-kill and power play betrayed them in a span of a few minutes.
Former Penguins forward Mark Letestu restored the Blue Jackets’ lead at 17:58 of the first, just 15 seconds after Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi was penalized for interference, flipping in a loose puck from near the inner edge of the right circle.
The Penguins were awarded their first chance with the extra man when Blake Comeau of Columbus was sent off for cross-checking Brian Gibbons at 19:44, and they capitalized on it early in the second.
But not before Columbus had taken a two-goal lead on a short-handed goal.
Derek MacKenzie put the Blue Jackets up, 3-1, with an excellent individual effort 43 seconds into the second. He stole the puck from Penguins defenseman Kris Letang in the neutral zone and broke down the right side before cutting to the net and beating Fleury on the stick side.
That goal deflated the crowd of 18,646, but Beau Bennett revived the fans — and his teammates — at 1:34, deflecting a Niskanen shot past Bobrovsky.
Just 35 seconds later, Johnson was called for interference, and he barely had taken his seat in the penalty box when the Penguins tied the score. Niskanen got the goal when he threw a shot by Bobrovsky from just below the left dot at 2:19.
“Their power play is very good,” Columbus coach Todd Richards said. “They can steal momentum quick, and they were able to do that.”
The Penguins finally got a lead — their first of the game and the only one they would need — when Brandon Sutter scored on a two-on-one break at 8:18 of the third.
So the Penguins opened the series with a victory. And a reminder of what they’re facing in Round 1.
“They’re a good team,” Sutter said. “They play hard and they have a good goaltender. They’re a well-balanced team. And it’s going to be a tough series.”
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published April 16, 2014 10:23 PM