Experience, for one night, won over enthusiasm. It was a great first game of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
But the Pittsburgh Penguins, if they had a shred of doubt earlier Wednesday, realize now they’re in for a battle with a scrappy and loose Columbus Blue Jackets team in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
The Penguins took the opener of the best-of-seven by a 4-3 score, but the three victories they now require to win the series won’t come easily.
Never mind the Jackets had a total of 251 playoff games in the National Hockey League as opposed to the 1,154 by the Penguins, it didn’t matter to young Jackets as they looked loose and not fazed by the stage there now. The Penguins used their speed and experience to take the first game.
Their star player, Sidney Crosby, was held in check in the offensive zone. Crosby finished with one assist and was minus-2, and mostly was unable to make much of an impact in the offensive zone.
Nor that the Penguins beat the Blue Jackets in all five meetings during the regular season.
It was Brandon Sutter, who scored the winning goal for Pittsburgh with about 11 minutes to go.
At 8:18 of the third period, Sutter snapped the puck under goalie Sergei Bobrovsky’s right arm on a 2 and 1 attack.
That marked the first lead of the game for the Penguins, who were knocked around at every turn and didn’t really start winning puck battles until past the midway point of the game.
Much of the pressure heading into the series was on the shoulders of Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who has had trouble stopping the puck in the past two post-seasons.
But he made several good stops against the Blue Jackets, denying Matt Calvert on a semi-breakaway in the final minute of the second period.
Jokinen, Bennett and Matt Niskanen also scored for the Penguins.
Jack Johnson, Mark Letestu and Derek MacKenzie scored or the Blue Jackets, playing just the fifth playoff game in franchise history.
The Jackets weren’t intimidated by the Penguins, but the resolve of the Pittsburgh side came through early in the second period.
Columbus led 2-1 after 20 minutes and appeared to be set to take over when MacKenzie scored an unassisted shorthanded goal 43 seconds into the second, giving the visitors a two-goal cushion.
But it was gone in a matter of minutes, thanks largely to the heads-up play of Niskanen.
Rarely does a team score on the same power play on which it has given up a shorthanded goal, but the Penguins managed to do it at 1:34 of the second. Bennett, moving through the slot, got his stick on a point shot by Niskanen to send the puck past Bobrovsky.
Less than a minute later, Johnson was called for interference, giving Pittsburgh another power play. And it was Niskanen getting the tying goal. That came at 2:19, just 10 seconds after Johnson went to the box and 45 seconds after Bennett’s goal.
Columbus took a 1-0 lead, the first lead in the franchise’s brief playoff history, at 6:20 of the first, on Johnson’s first playoff goal.
Jokinen tied the game 1-1, but Letestu, on a power play, scored 45 seconds later to put the Jackets up 2-1.
Game 2 will be on Saturday night at 7pm on FSN OHIO and NBC SPORTS NETWORK. Blue Jackets will return home tomorrow and will fly back to Pittsburgh on Friday.