COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Columbus Blue Jackets scored more goals in the first six minutes of Sunday’s game than in their first two playoff games combined. That still wasn’t enough to slow down the Pittsburgh Penguins, who dealt the Blue Jackets a third straight playoff loss and put them on the brink of elimination.
Now the Blue Jackets, whose best season in franchise history included a 16-game winning streak, will try to get a win at home on Tuesday night to avoid being swept out of the first-round series by the defending Stanley Cup champions. An overtime goal by 22-year-old rookie Jake Guentzel – set up by some deft puck-handling behind the net by Sidney Crosby – was the latest dagger. Guentzel had a hat trick in the 5-4 Pittsburgh win Sunday.
Columbus isn’t the only team in trouble. The Minnesota Wild, who had a 12-game winning streak this season, are down 0-3 to the surprising St. Louis Blues while Cup favorites Chicago and Washington have been plunged into challenging first-round series of their own.
The Wild’s struggles are even more perplexing. Minnesota has outshot St. Louis 117-79, killed off eight of nine power plays but has never led. Game 4 is Wednesday at St. Louis, whose goaltender, Jake Allen, has a .974 save percentage and 0.91 goals-against average after being 3-5 with a .902 and 2.29 in his playoff career coming in.
Columbus outshot Pittsburgh in their first two playoff games, and the Blue Jackets had chances to win all three. Veteran goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, replacing injured starter Matt Murray, has been sharp for the Penguins and made a critical mask save of a potential game-winning Brandon Dubinsky shot in overtime Sunday.
“We’ve played good hockey, and it’s unfortunate we’ve put ourselves in this situation,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said Monday. “There’s pressure, but we know what we’re facing. We’ve got a chance to just go out there and try to make a series of this.”
Columbus will be without sensational 19-year-old rookie defenseman Zach Werenski, who was lost for the year after taking a Phil Kessel shot to the face Sunday. He suffered a fractured cheekbone and will miss the remainder of the playoffs.
Werenski played a couple shifts in the third period with a full facemask, but his eye swelled shut and he had to sit out the rest of the game. He tweeted a photo of his face after the game that showed his eye nearly swollen shut.
The Blue Jackets will get forward Matt Calvert back for Game 4. Calvert sat in the press box Sunday night, serving a one-game penalty for breaking a stick over the back of Pittsburgh’s Tom Kuhnhackl and then decking him after the game was out of reach Friday night. Calvert didn’t want to talk about the play Monday, but he did say it wasn’t payback for anything that happened in the game.
There was “nothing that led to it,” he said. “The series is a battle.”
Montreal at N.Y. Rangers: (Montreal, 2-1) Just 18 seconds from trailing 2-0 in this series, the Canadiens have seized the momentum and they expect the Rangers to come out with more intensity in Game 4.
“We know we didn’t see their best,” forward Max Pacioretty said a day after Montreal’s 3-1 win in Game 3. “So we’re expecting, obviously, a pushback from them and we know we’re going to see their best the next game.”
In the last two games especially, the Canadiens have done a good job of preventing the Rangers from using the up-tempo style they’re best at, clamping down defensively and forcing New York to dump and chase. The Rangers managed just 21 shots on goal in Game 3 and had 21 giveaways, including 10 in the first period.
“With any team, if they’re fast you got to get on them quick,” defenseman Jordie Benn said. “We’ve been pretty good at that the last few games. We just got to keep doing it.”
After getting the winning goal in overtime in Game 2, Alexander Radulov put the Canadiens up 3-0 Sunday night, giving him two goals and three assists in the last two games.
Edmonton at San Jose: (Edmonton, 2-1)
The Oilers have found a new playoff hero in their first postseason trip since 2006. Hard-hitting winger Zack Kassian has turned into a clutch goal-scorer in the playoffs with the game-winners in back-to-back contests to give Edmonton the lead in the series after dropping the opener in overtime.
“His play speaks for itself,” coach Todd McLellan said. “He’s stepped up to the plate and delivered for three games straight. Obviously scoring big goals but doing a lot of other things during the game – the penalty kill portion of it, the forecheck, the momentum. He’s been tremendous for us.”
After scoring just seven goals in the regular season, Kassian has scored his first two game-winners since the 2014-15 regular season.
The Sharks are just looking for any kind of goal after being shut out by Cam Talbot for a second straight game. San Jose is just 1 for 14 on the power play this series and has scored on just three of 83 shots. San Jose’s quartet of 25-goal scorers in the regular season – Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau and Logan Couture – have none so far in the playoffs.
“It doesn’t matter how well the goalie played, we have to get to him,” Pavelski said. “In these one-goal hockey games, we have to stick one in the net.”