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