Penguins' Explosive Offense Salvages Another Win in Game 3 vs. Blue Jackets

Steve MacfarlaneFeatured ColumnistApril 21, 2014

Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

Aggressive. Punishing. Tenacious. Determined. All these things describe the Columbus Blue Jackets.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, though, are explosive.

Not as many adjectives as their Stanley Cup playoff adversaries—who deserve every bit of the attention and accolades they are receiving for giving the Penguins as much as they can handle in this first-round Eastern Conference series—but the only one they seem to need.

The leads the Blue Jackets worked so hard to build in Games 1 and 3 of the best-of-seven series collapsed in mere minutes when the Penguins poured on the pressure.

It might be a matter of experience on a team laced with young and talented players who simply don’t have much—or any—when it comes to the postseason. However, the Jackets have been impressive so far in spite of the fact that they face a 2-1 series deficit after a 4-3 loss Monday night in Columbus.

COLUMBUS, OH - APRIL 21:  Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets stops a shot from Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the first period in Game Three of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nationwide Arena on
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

They just can’t seem to consistently keep the Penguins offense in check despite shutting down the biggest names.

It was Brandon Sutter, Lee Stempniak and Jussi Jokinen who put the Pens ahead for the first time in a span of two minutes and 13 seconds in the third period Monday.

Sidney Crosby knows the team can't continue to fall behind and hope to catch up. He talked about it on the NHL Network after the game.

"It’s not ideal, especially getting that goal to make it 2-1 and then falling behind again. It’s not typically how you win hockey games," he told reporters. "But I think it showed a lot of character, a lot of patience. That’s something we can take from this."

The Blue Jackets can take these close contests as a learning experience and take pride in the fact that they're turning some heads in just their second playoff series in franchise history.

Brandon Dubinsky—who people should be calling "The Magician" for making Crosby disappear offensively—has been the most intriguing figure to watch so far in the series.

He nearly tied things up in the dying seconds Monday with one final mad dash to the net. It was that close...again.

In a series featuring Crosby and Malkin, Dubinsky has been the most compelling player on the ice.

— Larry Brooks (@NYP_Brooksie) April 22, 2014

Crosby has no goals, although he’s contributed four assists through the three games. Malkin has also been kept out of the goal column, putting together three helpers in what has been a quiet series for superstars.

One Penguin who has made a major impact is defenseman Paul Martin, whose six assists are a playoff best and his 28:50 of ice time per game is 10th behind the Minnesota Wild’s Ryan Suter, Blue Jackets’ Jack Johnson and seven members of the Chicago Blackhawks-St. Louis Blues series that has gone to overtime twice—including a marathon, triple-OT thriller.

#Penguins Paul Martin another #NHLPlayoffs game w 2 Assists makes it 3 in a row. Also #3 Star of game. 6A leads #NHL & Top 10 in NHL ice.

— Ben Hankinson (@benhankinson) April 22, 2014

@penguins Dman Paul Martin has been absolutely stellar in this series. Another couple of Apples tonight.

— Chris McAlpine (@McAlpine39) April 22, 2014

The Blue Jackets have to be excited they’ve been able to score goals and grind away at the more talented Penguins, but equally frustrated that they are unable to hold leads despite the way they’re neutralizing some of the biggest names in hockey.

Going forward, they’ll have to hope the physical punishment they’re dishing out will pay off in the long haul.

Before Monday night, a trending relationship between the number of checks the Blue Jackets have piled up on the Penguins and the advantage in turnovers they enjoyed seemed to be surfacing.

The hit parade
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The Jackets just have to find a way to translate that into victories.

Some suggest hits are irrelevant, and the Penguins’ lead in the series may support that argument.

Ignore the number of hits in Penguins-Jackets game for Columbus. Penguins have had the puck most of the game. Hits generally mean little.

— John Buccigross (@Buccigross) April 22, 2014

Certainly, Penguins captain Crosby looked at it as a product of them controlling the puck and putting themselves in a position to be hit. He talked about it on the NHL Network after the game.

COLUMBUS, OH - APRIL 21:  James Wisniewski #21 of the Columbus Blue Jackets checks James Neal #18 of the Pittsburgh Penguins while battling for control of the puck during the third period in Game Three of the First Round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playof
Kirk Irwin/Getty Images

"They’re finishing their hits. I’ve said this before. If we have the puck, they’re finishing more hits," Crosby told reporters. "If they’re leading in hits and we’re outshooting them and creating more, ultimately that’s what you want to do."

Only time will tell what damage the physical play is doing. This could be a much longer series than many anticipated.