Penguins notebook: Keeping poise is crucial for Columbus

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets took a realistic approach to being down, 2-1, in their first-round playoff series against the Penguins after twice blowing 3-1 leads.

Game 4 is tonight at Nationwide Arena.

“You’ve put yourself in a hole, for sure,” defenseman Jack Johnson said Tuesday. “We’re going into it with every intention of winning. As you get further along in the series, the stakes are higher and higher. That’s just the way it is.

“We’re going to go into Game 4 throwing everything we have at them.”

That approach netted Columbus a 2-0 lead Monday in the first three-plus minutes of Game 3, but the Penguins forced their way back into the game and won, 4-3.

“You’re going to get a push from the opposition, and this is a pretty good opposition that we’re playing against, a pretty talented group,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. “They’re going to make it challenging on you.”

Cooke’s hit hot topic

Some of the Penguins said it is unfortunate that former teammate Matt Cooke, now with Minnesota, is again in the spotlight for an in-game hit.

Monday, Cooke kneed Colorado defenseman Tyson Barrie, who will be out about a month because of a knee injury. Cooke has an in-person hearing with the NHL discipline department today.

“If it’s any other player, I think it’s maybe not looked at so closely,” said center Joe Vitale. “That’s fair for people to judge that. It’s hard to critique the situation on whether it was legal or illegal.

“He’s made a point to turn his game around and, credit to him, he’s done a great job.”

Cooke’s sixth and most recent NHL suspension came in 2011, when he had to sit out the final 10 games of the Penguins’ regular season and the first-round playoff series against Tampa Bay because of an elbow to the head of the New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

Cooke spent the subsequent offseason doing a lot of soul-searching and assessing his game.

“Everybody knows his story,” Penguins forward Craig Adams said. “He tried really hard to figure out a way to not put himself in those situations.

“Unfortunately, when you throw a lot of hits and the game is fast-paced, sometimes that happens and you have to take responsibility for it and live with whatever the consequences are.”

The experience factor

The thinking in both locker rooms seems to be that the Penguins’ lopsided edge in playoff experience was a factor in their third-period comeback in Game 3. Some Columbus veterans, however, said the team’s young players have shown no signs of bending under the pressure inherent in high-stakes games.

“Sometimes, I think [being] naive is bliss,” veteran defenseman James Wisniewski said. “For them, they’re just coming out, working 100 percent and keep grinding away.”

Before Game 3, Adams downplayed any advantage the Penguins might have because, collectively, they have appeared in so many more postseason games than the Blue Jackets.

“Experience is not going to win the game for us,” he said. “We have to go out and play well.”

Tip-ins

Many of the Penguins regulars were not among the 16 skaters at an optional practice, but injured forwards Brian Gibbons (undisclosed) and Marcel Goc (ankle) were. Coach Dan Bylsma said there was no change in status for Gibbons and Goc. … Ten Columbus players participated in an optional practice. … Johnson, on the fact that Penguins elite players Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz have no goals in the series: “They’re definitely going to get their chances, but we’re going to do our best to keep them scoreless. That’s, I guess, one positive we’ve taken out of it, but we’re still down, 2-1.”


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

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