COLUMBUS — 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 rookie defender Zach Werenski, who was lost for the year after taking a Phil Kessel shot to the face Sunday. He suffered a fractured cheekbone.
But the Blue Jackets will get forward Matt Calvert back for Game 4 (7:30 p.m. EDT, CNBC). 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.”