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Penguins fail to hold 3-goal lead, fall to Blue Jackets in overtime

| Wednesday, April 23, 2014, 10:23 p.m.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Blue Jackets' David Savard defends the Penguins' Sidney Crosby during the second period during Game 4 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series April 23, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Penguins need two wins.

They have two franchise centers.

The Stanley Cup playoffs have become about Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin not scoring, even if, as coach Dan Bylsma said Wednesday night, a Game 4 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets was not about that for the Penguins.

Center Brandon Dubinsky's goal with 24 seconds remaining in regulation cleared the way for winger Nick Foligno's winner 2:49 into overtime, and Columbus pulled even in Round 1 with a 4-3 victory at Nationwide Arena.

Game 5 is at Consol Energy Center on Saturday night, and the winner will take a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury made 42 saves, but it was a play he could not make late in regulation that had majority co-owner Mario Lemieux trying to raise his spirits inside the dressing room after the game.

With the Blue Jackets icing an extra attacker, Fleury tried to play a puck from behind his net. It skipped over his stick blade and onto the one belonging to Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen, who moved a pass to Dubinsky.

Too much of Fleury's net was open for him to stop Dubinsky's shot.

Just 24 seconds from victory, the Penguins were tied 3-3.

Crosby and Malkin — with two MVPs and four scoring titles between them — have yet to get a goal against Columbus. Neither has scored a goal dating to Round 2 of last postseason.

That makes eight playoff games without a goal for Malkin and nine for Crosby.

Malkin was not available for comment after Game 4.

Crosby, the club captain, coolly summarized the current state of his Penguins.

“At this point, we know that we've got to be better,” Crosby said. “We expect (Columbus) to be desperate. We just weren't able to elevate our play in the second half of the game.

“Yeah, we have to be better.”

The Penguins blew a 3-0 lead, wasting the first goals in the series from wingers Craig Adams (shorthanded), Chris Kunitz (power play) and James Neal (even-strength) in the first period.

By the third period, the Blue Jackets had pulled to within 3-2 on goals from centers Boone Jenner and Johansen. Both goals were scored on power plays, and Johansen's was with the Blue Jackets' working on a 5-on-3 advantage.

The Penguins took six penalties overall, including two costly ones in the second period while leading 3-1.

Winger Lee Stempniak was called for a double-minor — four minutes of penalty time — for high-sticking.

While attempting to kill that penalty, center Brandon Sutter cleared a puck into the seats to draw a delay-of-game minor.

The Blue Jackets used three second-period power plays to generate momentum and outshoot the Penguins, 18-6.

“We took our foot off the gas,” Stempniak said. “We scored three goals, completely outplayed them – and, honestly, the double-minor penalty I took didn't help, (and) giving them the 5-on-3 didn't help.”

The stage was set in overtime for either Crosby or Malkin to finally strike.

Neither did.

Malkin finished with an assist and two missed shots. Crosby attempted seven shots, placing three on net.

They have combined for eight assists in the series, though six are secondary ones. They were held without a point in a four-game sweep from the Eastern Conference final at the hands of Boston last postseason — though, Bylsma said, he has not seen either of his top centers pressing in this series.

“Every guy who puts the puck in the net looks to put it in there and knows when he's not,” Bylsma said. “I don't see them pressing in their game or cheating to try to get a goal or hoping (for) a goal.

“That's not the story (for Game 4). We had a three-goal lead and a 3-1 lead.”

The Penguins have two games to win or face a fifth straight year without a return to the Stanley Cup Final, from which they emerged as champions in 2009.

They have two franchise centers, and two days before Game 5.

“I'm sure if there's something that needs to be said, I will,” Crosby said. “But we've got lots of time to think about that here.”

Rob Rossi is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rrossi@tribweb.com or via Twitter @RobRossi_Trib.

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