Penguins, Blue Jackets end up where they started after home-and-home series
COLUMBUS, Ohio – There was plenty of sound and fury contained in a home-and-home series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets that concluded Saturday night.
There was the great Blue Jackets goaltending debate.
Columbus coach John Tortorella all but admitted that Sergei Bobrovsky has a Penguins problem when he started backup Joonas Korpisalo in a 3-0 Blue Jackets loss on Wednesday night. Then he went back to Bobrovsky, who quieted those doubts with a 28-save showing in a 4-1 win Saturday night that snapped a personal five-game losing streak against the Penguins.
There was also the tale of triumph and tragedy written by Penguins winger Phil Kessel.
He snapped a 16-game goal drought, much to the delight of the PPG Paints Arena crowd, in Thursday’s game. He fell on his face, giving Columbus’ Cam Atkinson a shorthanded goal in Saturday’s game.
Ultimately, though, it signaled pretty much nothing.
When the Penguins woke up Thursday morning, they were tied with Montreal for the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference playoff field with 79 points with 16 games to play. Columbus was two points behind.
When the Penguins woke up Sunday morning, they were tied with Montreal for the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference playoff field with 81 points with 14 games to play. Columbus was two points behind.
In a dry, mathematical sense, the split favors the Penguins. They have the lead, and Columbus has two fewer chances to catch them.
Realistically, though, neither team gained or lost all that much.
“I’m not going to get too amped up here,” Tortorella said. “That’s a big win for us. If you go into these two games and you split against Pitt, I guess you leave happy. I’m sure Sully is saying the same thing with his room.”
Both teams can point to positives and negatives from the series.
For the Penguins, the biggest positive is the play of goalie Matt Murray, who pitched a 25-save shutout Thursday and made a handful of spectacular saves on Saturday. He’s 18-6-2 with a .930 save percentage since returning from injury in December.
The biggest negative for the Penguins is the way they continue to be prone to game-changing gaffes, especially on the power play, like Kessel’s on Saturday night.
For the Blue Jackets, the biggest negative is a lack of finishing touch and offensive chemistry following several high-profile trade deadline additions. They were shut out Thursday and probably should have put the Penguins away much earlier than they did Saturday.
The biggest positive is probably a long-sought win over the Penguins, who had won the previous eight meetings, even if Tortorella doesn’t think so.
“It’s a mental hurdle for you guys,” Tortorella told reporters. “You guys talk about it all the time. I’m not trying to be a smart ass. I don’t think (the players) really think about that much.
“It’s a really good game when these two teams play in either building. I don’t think that team gets wrapped up in it either, probably, as far as how many wins they have against us, whatever it is. I think when the puck is dropped, it’s two competitive teams, developing that stuff, playing some good games against one another.”
Positives and negatives, triumphs and tragedies aside, both teams face a difficult road ahead as they attempt to make the playoffs.
Columbus faces the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes once and the red-hot Boston Bruins twice before embarking on a three-game Western Canada trip.
The Penguins play the Bruins on Sunday and the Washington Capitals on Tuesday.
Both teams have to hope the home-and-home series left them more battle-hardened.
“We’re trying to control what we can,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “As I said to the guys after the game, we didn’t get the result. We’ve got to put it behind us and be ready for the next one. That’s the mindset we have to have. We’re in playoff mode already, and that’s just the way it’s going to be.”
Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jonathan by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .