COLUMBUS, Ohio — Get into the playoffs, and you’re going to lose games.
They all hurt.
Sometimes, the defeats really sting.
Penguins Report: Blue Jackets 4, Penguins 3
Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma talks to the media after losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. (Video by Peter Diana; 4/23/2014)
And every now and then, there’s one that absolutely scalds.
One like the Penguins’ 4-3 overtime loss to Columbus Wednesday night at Nationwide Arena, when they allowed an early 3-0 lead to mutate into a defeat that has tied their first-round series against the Blue Jackets, 2-2, heading into Game 5 at 7:08 p.m. Saturday night at Consol Energy Center.
There’s a two-day break before they face Columbus again. Whether that’s enough time for the Penguins to shake off the effects of this loss remains to be seen.
“We don’t have a choice,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “We let another one slip away. We’re making it harder on ourselves than we need to, but I don’t think we need to pout about it now.”
Nick Foligno of the Blue Jackets scored the winning goal at 2:49 of the extra period, when his long-range shot knuckled past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury.
Foligno had predicted to his teammates that he would end the game, telling them after the third period that “I hope you don’t mind, I’m going to score,” and it didn’t take him long to make good on his call.
“Next time Nick does that, he has to tell me before the overtime,” Columbus coach Todd Richards said. “Because I’ll play him a lot.”
Foligno got a chance to be the hero only because the Blue Jackets had scored with 22.5 seconds left in regulation to complete their comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
Fleury, who made 39 saves in regulation and was the main reason the Penguins were in position to take a 3-1 edge in the series, went behind his net to stop a puck that had been sent around the boards, only to have it hop over his stick.
Columbus center Ryan Johansen got control of the puck and fed it to Brandon Dubinsky, who tossed it past a lunging Fleury from near the right hash to force overtime.
The Penguins, who have failed to protect multiple-goal leads in each of their defeats, have more than a few issues to deal with over the balance of the series, but Fleury’s teammates say they aren’t concerned about how he will cope with the way Game 4 ended.
“I don’t worry about him at all,” Niskanen said.
The beginning of the game had been almost as promising for the Penguins as the end was disappointing.
They ignored the well-documented truth that the team scoring first had lost each of the previous three games and took a 1-0 lead on a short-handed goal by Craig Adams at 6:09.
Jussi Jokinen was serving a hooking minor when Adams beat Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky from inside the right circle after getting a backhand feed from Brandon Sutter.
Chris Kunitz picked up his first goal of the playoffs on a power play at 10:37, as he planted himself in front of Bobrovsky and deflected in a Niskanen shot. The Penguins grabbed the first three-goal lead of the series 33 seconds later, as James Neal threw a shot by Bobrovsky from the inner edge of the right circle.
That outburst staggered the Blue Jackets, but they were revived when Neal took an interference minor to offset another Penguins power play at 15:15. While Neal was in the penalty box, a Mark Letestu shot hit Columbus center Boone Jenner and dropped behind Fleury at 16:39.
Jenner’s goal was the only one Columbus scored in the first period, but it gave the Blue Jackets momentum that allowed them to dominate the second period.
“We needed to do something to engage our fans,” Richards said. “And that goal helped us.”
The Blue Jackets ran up an 18-6 advantage in shots in the second, although they managed to get only one of those behind Fleury. Johansen got that goal on a two-man advantage at 14:20 as he swiped in a puck from near the left post.
“From the second period on, we really started to take it too them,” Columbus forward R.J. Umberger said.
The Penguins defense tightened for most of the third, but not quite long enough to prevent Columbus from evening the series.
“It doesn’t feel good right now,” Adams said. “But you wake up [today], and it’s still 2-2, no matter how you lost it. And we have to go and try to get Game 5.”
Dave Molinari: Dmolinari@Post-Gazette.com and Twitter @MolinariPG. First Published April 23, 2014 10:09 PM