Nastiness missing from Penguins-Blue Jackets, at least for the moment
April 18, 2014 11:51 PM
Penguins winger Beau Bennett celebrates his goal Wednesday night with Brandon Sutter, left, and Matt Niskanen, right.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
It likely would be different -- a lot different -- if the guy wearing No. 19 was, say, Scott Hartnell instead of Ryan Johansen.
Or if the crest on the front of the sweater read "Capitals" instead of depicting a star swathed in red, white and blue bunting.
Or if the history of ugly incidents between the Penguins and Columbus couldn't be chronicled in great detail on a standard index card (with room left over for photos of the primary offenders and members of their immediate families).
So, perhaps it should be no surprise that the Penguins' 4-3 victory against the Blue Jackets in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series Wednesday night was decidedly civil, at least by the NHL's postseason standards.
Matchup: Penguins vs. Columbus Blue Jackets, 7:08 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
Series: Penguins lead, 1-0.
TV, Radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Sergei Bobrovsky for Blue Jackets.
Penguins: Have won seven games in a row vs. Columbus including regular-season contests. ... Are 23-10 at home in Game 2s. ... Three of Brandon Sutter's four career postseason points have come at home.
Blue Jackets: Are 0-5 all time in the playoffs. ... Had a lead for 15:14 of Game 1 after holding one for just 56 seconds in five regular-season games vs. Penguins. ... Jack Johnson blocked six shots in Game 1, twice as many as anyone else.
Hidden Stat: Sidney Crosby has 106 playoff points and needs one for sole possession of third place in Penguins history, and, with 66 career playoff assists, he needs three to move into third on that franchise list.
There were plenty of hacks and whacks and sly jabs -- hey, this is ice hockey, not three-dimensional chess -- but no blatant attempts at decapitation or vivisection. Nothing, in fact, that referees Eric Furlatt and Wes McCauley deemed worthy of more than a minor penalty.
Only seven of those were assessed, of which four were for the relatively benign infraction of interference. Needless to say, no one on either side was summoned to the league office to explain egregious actions.
"It was a pretty physical game," Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen said Friday. "But there wasn't that hate against each other."
That almost certainly will change as the series plays out, however, beginning with Game 2 tonight at Consol Energy Center.
If familiarity doesn't breed contempt -- and it almost always does in the NHL playoffs -- it can, at the very least, fray nerves and shorten fuses.
"Maybe there isn't [serious animosity] yet, but I think it's going to [develop] pretty quickly," Penguins left winger Tanner Glass said
"You look at the way [Columbus center Brandon] Dubinsky's playing, and [defenseman] Jack Johnson is playing physical back there. [Defenseman James] Wisniewski plays a heavy game, so I imagine it won't take much to get it going."
Probably not, because even teams with no particular history quickly grow weary of sharing a slab of ice in almost every best-of-seven. That invariably leads to a rise in the number of covert shoves and slashes and elbows.
Avoiding post-whistle skirmishes such acts can provoke likely works to the advantage of the Penguins, who repeatedly have proven capable of losing their composure and discipline when opponents -- especially ones wearing orange sweaters -- goad them sufficiently.
"For our team, [keeping extracurriculars to a minimum] might be good," defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It keeps our focus on just playing hockey a little better.
"We've fallen victim to getting a little too involved in that stuff after the whistles."
The Blue Jackets, Orpik said, tried to initiate a few run-ins in stoppages, largely to no avail.
"For the most part, we did a pretty good job of just playing hockey," he said.
That doesn't mean Columbus will stop trying. Not only is feisty play a sound strategy against the Penguins, it practically is encoded in some of the Blue Jackets' DNA.
"You get a guy like Dubinsky or [Matt] Calvert or [Boone] Jenner, these guys, it's what they do," Penguins defenseman Rob Scuderi said. "Over the course of seven games, if needed, you're not going to be a fan of it, but that's the way they play.
"They played that way during the regular season. They play with a lot of grit and sandpaper."
Scuderi was quick to add that the Blue Jackets are no more dirty than the average NHL team. Including the one for which he plays.
"Every now and then, you're going to get a scrum in front of the net, with an extra stick or a glove [facewash]," Scuderi said. "But I hope that if we're playing our game, if we're on our toes, they have to take the same from us."
So expect a few of those -- and likely a few other outside-the-rules actions -- during Game 2. And, most likely, every game that follows until this series has run its course.
"If you see a team [numerous times in a short span], you get tired of seeing the same guys and tempers flare," Scuderi said. "That's part of a playoff series."
Even if it isn't during Game 1.
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG.
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