Scifo on the Pens – Calvert rallies Blue Jackets past Penguins in double overtime, evens best-of-seven quarterfinal series

Scifo on the Pens – Calvert rallies Blue Jackets past Penguins in double overtime, evens best-of-seven quarterfinal series

Dan Scifo’s game story from Saturday night.

By Dan Scifo
From the Point Contributor

PITTSBURGH – Matt Calvert’s first goal gave the Columbus Blue Jackets a desperate shot of much-needed life.

His second provided the Blue Jackets with their first playoff win in franchise history.

Calvert capped a furious rally, scoring 1:10 into the second overtime to give the Columbus Blue Jackets a 4-3 come-from-behind victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

“You always dream about being the hero in overtime,” Calvert said. “We battled for it and it didn’t come easy. We were down a couple goals at different times. It’s just a great feeling right now.”

It’s not a great feeling for the Penguins, who, like the Blue Jackets in Game 1, allowed a 3-1 lead slip away in the second period. The best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal-round series, knotted at 1, heads to Columbus for Game 3 (7 p.m.) Monday night.

“I think it’s a missed opportunity,” Penguins’ defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “We’re at home, Game 2, we’re having a great first period, we had a two-goal lead, and we were in complete control of the hockey game.

“We let them back in the hockey game.”

Penguins’ goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 41 shots, made the first save on the eventual game-winner, but Calvert banged home his own rebound from Cam Atkinson’s initial shot on goal. Calvert’s winner tied the series, but his second-period short-handed goal helped bring the Blue Jackets to their first playoff overtime game in franchise history.

“The shorthanded goal in the second period was the difference maker in the game,” Blue Jackets’ head coach Todd Richards said.

“It gave hope to our guys. You could feel it on the bench. After that, I felt we played a very strong game.”

It had the opposite effect on the Penguins, who got two goals from Brian Gibbons in the first five minutes of the game and outshot the Blue Jackets 15-4 in the opening period. Gibbons, who netted a short-handed goal, left the game midway through the opening period with an injury after a hit from Ryan Johansen and did not return.

Niskanen scored his second goal of the series on the power play for the Penguins and Sidney Crosby provided two assists, but did not score for the second straight game, joining stars Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz, who were all left off the score sheet Saturday and finished a combined minus-3.

“We have to be better,” Crosby said. “That’s really, I think, the bottom line. Whether it’s special teams, or five-on-five, we have to be better.”

The Blue Jackets got three goals from their special teams, Jack Johnson netting his second of the playoffs on the power play and Johansen also scoring with the man advantage, in addition to Calvert’s short-hander.

Pittsburgh struggled on the power play, going 1-for-8, including an 0-of-2 effort during the overtime.

“Special teams are huge in the playoffs,” Crosby said. “We were on the wrong side of things tonight.”

Pittsburgh started slow in Game 1, falling behind 3-1 before scoring a pair of power-play goals to recover for a 4-3 victory.

The Blue Jackets got off to the slow start in Game 2, trailing by the same 3-1 margin, but battled back, as Johnson eventually tied the game with 6:01 to play in the third.

Blue Jackets’ goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who stopped 39 shots, came up big in the first overtime, denying Joe Vitale in addition to Crosby’s initial shot and the rebound attempt from Lee Stempniak.

“I knew I had a good chance,” Stempniak said. “He made a nice save… would’ve been nice to put that in.”

Pittsburgh, leading 3-1 thanks to a pair of early goals from Gibbons, had an opportunity to potentially put Columbus away early in Game 2 with a pair of second-period power-play chances. But Calvert’s short-handed goal turned the tide, trimming the Penguins’ lead to 3-2 and allowing Columbus to control play, pinning Pittsburgh in its own zone for long stretches during the rest second period.

The Penguins successfully killed two penalties in the third period, but a third – a two-man advantage for seven seconds after defenseman Kris Letang was whistled for interference – proved to be too much. Johnson tied it with 6:01 remaining, sweeping a diving one-handed pass from Johansen into a wide-open net.

“It was a lot different than Game 1, where you’re able to have those offensive zone shifts and sustain possession,” Richards said. “It turned into the half-ice game… chip it out, hopefully chip it back in and do it again.”

The Blue Jackets also got life from forward R.J. Umberger – a graduate of Plum High School – who was back in the lineup after missing the last two weeks with an upper-body injury. He’s one of a few veterans who played during the team’s previous playoff appearance in 2009 when the Blue Jackets were swept by Detroit.

There won’t be a sweep this year and there’s always a chance they could get forward Nick Foligno back after he missed Game 2 with a lower body injury.

“We’ve been a group that keeps coming and keeps coming,” Umberger said. “We play until the end. It’s never pretty, but we kept coming and found a way to win.”

It didn’t look good early. Gibbons’ first goal came 3:30 into the game as Niskanen’s fluttering shot from the point deflected off the Penguins’ rookie in front and into the net.

His second came 38 seconds later, a short-handed goal that had the standing-room-only sellout crowd bursting. Gibbons, screaming down the left wing, deked Bobrovsky to the ice and slid a shot between his legs.

Johansen tempered the enthusiasm, scoring a power-play goal 45 seconds later on a blast from the point that cut the Penguins’ early lead in half, 2-1.

Niskanen brought it back to a two-goal advantage for the Penguins when his rocket from the blue line beat Bobrovsky on the power play.

Calvert cut the deficit to 3-2 with a short-handed goal, snapping a wrist shot that beat Fleury on the glove side.

It turned out to be a preview of things to come, only this time on a much larger scale, after he struck again in the second overtime.

“It’s a great win for our hockey team and for a lot of people back in Columbus,” Richards said. “For me, it’s one win and you have to win four.”

NOTES: The last three Penguins’ overtime games went multiple periods… Saturday was the 300th playoff game in Penguins’ history. They are 161-139 all-time, including an 88-64 mark on home ice… Crosby has points in 12 straight games against Columbus. He surpassed Kevin Stevens for sole possession of third place on the franchise’s all-time post-season point list and tied Ron Francis on the all-time playoff assist list… Gibbons was the first Penguins’ rookie to score two playoff goals since Martin Straka in 1993.