Young Penguins defenseman keeps his cool


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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Just try to find something that rattles Olli Maatta.

He’s 19. Playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time after finishing his first season in the NHL.

“The kid’s been awesome. Young but so mature,” Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury said of his youthful teammate.

“All season he’s been improving.”

The second-seeded Penguins’ splitting their first two games at home against the No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets in a first-round Eastern Conference playoff series?

Doesn’t set off Maatta’s nerves.

Being down by two goals twice in Game 3 Monday night at Nationwide Arena?

No sweat.

“We weren’t terrible.” Maatta insisted. “We played well; we just couldn’t score. We outshot them pretty hard. In the end, we just got the bounces.”

No doubt Maatta also shrugged it off when he found out that he did not score the winning goal in the Penguins’ 4-3 comeback victory.

The goal, at 8:06 of the third period and the third for the Penguins in a span of 2:13, came on a shot from the right point by Maatta. It initially appeared as if the puck went in off of Blue Jackets defenseman James Wisniewski, and the goal was listed as belonging to Maatta for a while — long enough for him to talk about it after the game.

“It was a big goal,” Maatta said. “I’m not sure if it bounced [off players] twice. I’ll take it.

“I just tried to get the puck through, get it on net. That’s how you score. I was able to do that. A little bit lucky.”

In fact, it was later ruled that Jussi Jokinen touched the puck, and he got credit for the winner, with Maatta getting an assist, his second in three games in this series.

Maatta is no less valuable to the Penguins after not getting that goal.

“I talked to him at the morning skate, talked about this game being a big game,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “I said to him, ‘I’m glad you’re on my side.’

“He’s not fazed by it. He’s a big part for our team. I’m glad he’s on our side.”

Maatta wasn’t pegged to make it to the NHL this season, although team management certainly had been impressed with him before and after it selected him 22nd overall at the 2012 NHL draft.

His play and injuries to other Penguins defensemen forced the team to keep him for the nine games before his entry-level contract would kick in, then for the full season.

Maatta not only had nine goals, 20 assists in 78 games, but he played with a level of poise not usually seen in teenagers.

The series against the Blue Jackets has been an emotional roller coaster for the Penguins. They erased a two-goal deficit to win Game 1, 4-3. They lost Game 2 by the same score in double overtime. And then Monday, Columbus scored twice in the first 3:18 of the first period.

Asked about the wild swings and emotions of his first NHL postseason, Maatta said calmly: “Games are more intense, physical. It’s been one-goal games. That’s what they’re going to be like.”

Maatta played a couple of road games against Columbus in the regular season. Those nights, Nationwide Arena was nearly Pittsburgh West, Penguins fans filling the stands.

Monday, the stands were heavily pro-Blue Jackets.

Did that throw Maatta?

“It was great,” he said. “I wish they were hoping for us to win, but it was great. I was enjoying it. You want to play when everybody’s into it.”

It turns out, though, that the Blue Jackets found something that rattles him, at least a little.

When the Blue Jackets score or come out for the start of a period at Nationwide Arena, workers set off a cannon. A loud, booming cannon.

“It kind of scares me.” Maatta said, with a slight laugh.

Shelly Anderson: shanderson@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1721 and Twitter @pgshelly.


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