The Columbus Blue Jackets are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in franchise history due in large part to the play of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, and they had an opportunity to take their first-ever series lead Saturday because of his play late in games.
Although the Blue Jackets have trailed the Pittsburgh Penguins by 3-1 margins early in their two victories, Bobrovsky has managed to shut the door late in those games to allow for the comeback. However, that shutout effort did not happen in Saturday's 3-1 Penguins win at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins peppered Bobrovsky with 51 shots, 49 of which he turned away en route to the game's third star honors, but a power play goal in the second period gave them a win and 3-2 series lead over the Blue Jackets heading into tonight's elimination game in Columbus.
"He was great," Columbus coach Todd Richards said of Bobrovsky. "Even on their first goal, he makes a great save and he just loses track of the puck, so he ends up turning his body which opened up the hole because he thought it was behind him. It was one of those performances where you come into an opposing rink, that's a game that your goaltender can steal for you. We just weren't able to do enough in the offensive zone.
"Bob's been fine. I don't have any problems with Bob. Just like anyone, you're going to have ups and downs in games. You're going to have ups and downs in series. He's no different, but he competes. He battles. He's able to put things behind him, and to me, that's the great mental makeup that you need when these games become worth a lot more than what they are in the regular season."
In the loss, the Blue Jackets registered only 24 shots on net, a total the Penguins nearly eclipsed when they fired 21 alone in the second period. The only one that got past Bobrovsky in the second period was Chris Kunitz's power play tally at the 7:42 mark.
"To me, it felt like 51 shots," Richards said. "They were going to the net hard. Obviously, it was something they talked about to make it hard on Bobrovsky. There were some bumps here and there.
"It was how they wanted to play the game; pucks to the net. We spent too much time in our zone. If you spend too much time in your own zone, you're going to give up opportunities and lots of shots."
Blue Jackets center Mark Letestu acknowledged the team "didn't give Bob enough support," and felt the Penguins did a better job of managing the speed and pace of the game with their aggressive offensive approach.
"I think they were pretty good on their puck control," Letestu said. "Whether it was the (defense) working together or working as a five-man unit to break pucks out, we just couldn't sustain any fore-checks and turn pucks over, or really have those long offensive-zone shifts to grind them down. Credit to them, they stepped it up. We were a step behind. We had to be better and we weren't."
And if Bobrovsky is going to help the Blue Jackets even the series at three games apiece at Nationwide Arena tonight, Richards knows the team in front of the goaltender needs to play a different type of game in front of the home fans.
"I think we needed to be harder in front of our net, and we didn't do enough," Richards said. "We didn't spend enough time in their zone to create the same types of scrums around their net."