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Penalties spur Pens' unraveling

| Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 11:12 p.m.
Daniel Kubus | for the Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Brooks Orpik argues with officials in the second period against the Blue Jackets during Game 4 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series April 23, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When the Penguins are at their worst, they're usually in the penalty box — a lot.

Despite members of management — to say nothing of the players — being furious with a number of calls made during Game 4 on Wednesday, the Penguins' inability to stay out of the penalty box triggered their undoing as the Columbus Blue Jackets rallied for a 4-3 overtime victory.

“That was big,” coach Dan Bylsma said. “They (the Blue Jackets) were coming hard. And a lot of that was the eight minutes (of penalty time in the second period).”

The Penguins couldn't have been in any better control of the game late in the first period, when defenseman David Savard slashed left wing Chris Kunitz on the right arm.

TV microphones picked up the sound of Kunitz screaming in pain. Kunitz fell to the ice and swung his arm after the slash. Officials called Savard for slashing. However, they also penalized Kunitz for embellishment, evening up the play.

At the time, the Penguins were working on a power play and looking to take a 4-0 lead. They would have had a 5-on-3 power play for more than a minute had Kunitz not been penalized.

“I'm sure they were disappointed with some of the calls, too,” center Joe Vitale said. “But you know, we've got to stay out of the box. It's been a problem.”

Another big name joined Kunitz in the box moments later. With the Penguins working on a 4-on-4 situation, right wing James Neal — he and Kunitz scored earlier in the period — was called for interference, giving the Blue Jackets their second power play of the period.

It was the life Columbus needed.

“It's on us tonight,” right wing Lee Stempniak said. “We shouldn't lose that game.”

The Penguins have been guilty all season of taking offensive-zone penalties and took two at an inopportune time. Forward Boone Jenner, whose net-front presence drew a penalty earlier in the first period, scored the goal that gave the Blue Jackets hope.

They received far more hope — and a bushel of power plays — in the second period, when the Penguins were short-handed four more times.

Stempniak was given a four-minute penalty for a high-stick infraction, and in the early stages of that penalty kill, center Brandon Sutter was penalized for shooting the puck over the glass.

Sutter, who rarely complains to officials, vehemently denied the call to no avail.

With the Penguins down by two men for two minutes, they finally allowed a goal as center Ryan Johansen scored on a tap-in to pull the Blue Jackets within one.

The Penguins weren't done being generous. Niskanen was called for tripping with two minutes remaining in the second period. With the crowd on its feet for the entire two minutes, the Penguins' penalty killers — looking exhausted — and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury were able to send the game to the third period with the lead still intact.

“When you're in the box all the time it hurts because it keeps your best players off the ice,” left wing Tanner Glass said.

Although the game went to overtime, Sidney Crosby played only 18:47, well below his season average. Evgeni Malkin played 20:47.

The Penguins managed to stay out of the penalty box in the third period and overtime, but by then, the damage was done.

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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