Closing time: Penguins try again to end series

  • Associated Press
April 19, 2017
The Columbus Blue Jackets celebrate a goal against the Penguins during the first period of Game 4 of the NHL first-round playoff series Tuesday, in Columbus, Ohio. The Penguins and Blue Jackets are set to meet for Game 5 of the playoffs in Pittsburgh tonight. - Associated Press

After posting two of the top four records in the NHL in the regular season, the Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets both need to find out a way to get a win on the road or their playoff runs will end almost as soon as they began.

The Blue Jackets have gotten one win so far after dropping the first three games to Pittsburgh. The Penguins don’t want to give them any life.

“You have the opportunity to close it out, you want to make sure you do it,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “You could see the desperation in their game and saw the importance of that to be in our game as well.”

The Blackhawks were shut out twice at home by Nashville and then blew a 2-0 lead in Game 3 to fall behind 3-0 in the series. Game 4 is tonight.

“We’re in a tough spot and a place we don’t want to be in, but we got a game,” defenseman Brent Seabrook said. “We got to worry about one game and try to win one game.”

The other two series Thursday night are much tighter with Edmonton-San Jose and Montreal-New York Rangers tied at two games apiece.

The Sharks evened their series with a 7-0 win at home but the Oilers are focused on the series score rather than the lopsided game.

“It’s 2-2. To me, that’s the only score that matters,” forward Mark Letestu said. “We didn’t play the way we wanted to – 7-0, nothing really went our way.”

The defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins are hoping a better start will help them finish off Columbus.

The Blue Jackets have outscored the Penguins 5-2 in the first period over the course of the series, including building two-goal leads in both Game 3 and Game 4. Pittsburgh managed to rally and win Game 3 in overtime but couldn’t quite get there in a 5-4 loss in Game 4 as Columbus extended its season.

“You earn your bounces, and they were better,” Crosby said. “They earned the win.”

Taking that final step has been a difficult process during the Crosby era in Pittsburgh. While the Penguins have won a pair of Cups during the two-time MVP’s tenure, they are just 15-13 in games in which they can eliminate the opponent. Not playing catch-up in the second period would help.

“It’s about being ready from the drop of the puck,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “It’s about the mindset. It’s not a wait-and-see approach. We’ve got to be ready to dictate the terms from the very first puck drop.”

Before Tuesday’s win over the Penguins, Columbus coach John Tortorella said he simply wanted his young team to experience a playoff victory.

“I wanted them – some guys with limited playoff experience, some of them with none – just to try to enjoy a win,” Tortorella said. “Now we’ll figure out how to go about our business and try to manage the series here.”

The Blue Jackets, who were able to outlast the Penguins when they pushed back hard in the second and third periods and then got a short-handed goal from Jake Guenztel with 27 seconds left in the game.

“That’s a good team – they can sense the blood in the water,” Tortorella said. “But we got through it.”

Sergei Bobrovsky had 27 saves to help the Blue Jackets get their first playoff win in three years and their first-ever in regulation.

N.Y. Rangers at Montreal (series tied 2-2)

After the Rangers ended their six-game playoff losing streak at home with Tuesday’s 2-1 win , the series shifts back to the Bell Centre.

“We played a better game,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “We were able to give ourselves an opportunity. It’s a two out of three (series). That’s what we wanted.”

After the Rangers won, the Canadiens now have to make adjustments heading home.

While Alexander Radulov has two goals and four assists in the series, captain Max Pacioretty, who had 35 goals and 67 points in the regular season, has only one assist in the first four games for the Canadiens.

Chicago at Nashville (Predators lead 3-0)

The Predators have been led so far this series by their top line of Ryan Johansen, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg.

Johansen leads the series with five points (one goal, one assist), while Forsberg has scored twice and Arvidsson once through three games. The Blackhawks as a team have scored just twice all series.

“They’ve got a lot of confidence right now,” Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith said. “They’ve all scored goals in this series.”

Nashville isn’t overconfident, knowing that the core of this Blackhawks team has won three Stanley Cups in the past seven seasons and won’t go out easily.

San Jose at Edmonton (series tied 2-2)

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