Pens' outburst covers lack of power

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- This is a slightly blurry picture.

This is a piece of fine china with a hairline crack in its side.

This is a Lamborghini with a key mark down the side panel.

This is the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Three games into what should have been the best possible first-round matchup for them, the Penguins hold a 2-1 series lead.

Darned if we can explain exactly how it's happened.

Two nights after blowing a 3-1 lead to give the Blue Jackets their first postseason victory in franchise history, the Penguins nearly handed Columbus its first home playoff victory.

Pittsburgh allowed two Columbus goals in the first 3:18 of the game thanks in large part to sloppy rebound control by netminder Marc-Andre Fleury.

They cut the Blue Jackets lead to 2-1 by scoring with less than two seconds left in the second on a wonderful effort by defenseman Brooks Orpik. Then, the Penguins gave the Blue Jackets back a two-goal lead 1:04 into the third period when Cam Atkinson had a Brandon Dubinsky shot carom off his body and behind Fleury for a 3-1 lead.

The Pens' vaunted power play continues to make a mockery of the words "power" and "play," as they went 0-for-6 on the night and are 1-for-14 over the past two games.

Three games into this series, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, James Neal, Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang have combined for zero goals.

And still, during a frenzied, brilliant 2:13 span in the third period, the Pittsburgh Penguins flexed and it was enough to carry the day.

In that small space of time, the Penguins scored on three consecutive shots to turn what would have been an ugly loss to explain and a one-game series hole to consider going into Wednesday's Game 4 into what could be a devastating loss for an inexperienced Blue Jackets team that has now blown 3-1 leads in both of its losses in the series.

In fact, the losing team in all three games has blown a 3-1 lead.

Go figure.

"You don't want a 3-1 lead in this series, I guess," offered Jussi Jokinen, who scored the winner by deflecting home an Olli Maatta shot from the point after a Columbus turnover in its own zone with 11:54 left in regulation.

"If you watch any teams [in] the playoffs: If you get the lead in the third it's not easy, you get a little bit more defensive and the team who's chasing is putting pucks to the net and getting that momentum; it's not easy [to] play [with] a lead in third period in the playoffs."

It was Jokinen's second goal of the playoffs, and he noted that one of the key factors in Game 3 was the fact that while the power play didn't register a goal, it didn't give up a shorthanded goal.

This is the sound of a reporter's hand slapping his forehead.

You know this is a wacky series when one of the keys to winning is not giving up a shorthanded goal even though during the regular season the Penguins gave up only six in an 82-game span.

"I think even though our power play didn't score, we got tons of momentum. We had great chances and what's been killing us first two games, the shorthanded goals. They didn't get any chances shorthanded, so that was big, and I think our PK had a great, best game of the series," Jokinen added.

"It was even special teams and we found a way to get better five-on-five."

Indeed, all seven goals scored on Monday night were scored at even strength.

"I think it's been kind of up and down the last three games here. Throughout the games. Any team that gets the lead seems to find a way to give it up. But yeah, I thought we did a lot of good things and we stayed the course, stayed the course. Our power play I thought looked a lot better in terms of getting pucks to the net," said Brandon Sutter, who scored the Penguins' second goal by deflecting a Paul Martin shot past Sergei Bobrovsky.

Sutter echoed Jokinen's belief that, even though there weren't goals produced with the power play, it served as a catalyst to the victory.

Columbus coach Todd Richards agreed. And it's really a simple bit of math that supports that belief.

If you're using six forwards to kill most of your penalties and four defensemen, they expend an awful lot of energy chasing pucks around the ice, while the rest of your guys are waiting.

The Columbus Blue Jackets are a team that is most effective when rolling four lines and crashing and banging opposing teams.

It would behoove the Blue Jackets to stay out of the box moving forward, and when he was asked about some of the calls that went against his team, Richards declined to answer.

"I thought when we got that third goal that was going to be the difference," Columbus forward R.J. Umberger said.

"But they didn't quit. They're an experienced group and they kept coming."

And let's be clear here, it's not like the Penguins are a disaster.

They killed off all four Columbus power plays.

Fleury, after the rocky start, was fine and has for the most part out-played Bobrovsky throughout this series.

The Orpik goal, for instance, was a shot Bobrovsky had a clear line of sight on but couldn't coral.

And the Penguins limited the Blue Jackets to just 20 shots on the night, five in the third period, while they launched 41 at Bobrovsky.

Someone asked Orpik if he was worried that the stats sheet had the Blue Jackets out-hitting the Penguins by an absurd 65-32. For those keeping track at home that would be more than one hit a minute for the entire game for the Blue Jackets.

"I don't know. I feel pretty good. If you look at the shots, I think shots and goals are what really matter," Orpik said.

As for the physicality, "it definitely wears you down but if you have the puck it's tough to hit people. I thought we had the puck a lot tonight. They want to win that stat then that's good for them," Orpik added.

Zing.

That's two years in a row that Orpik has scored a big goal for his team in the playoffs. He ended the Pens' 2013 first-round series against the New York Islanders with an overtime goal in Game 6, and his goal Monday was key to getting his team back into some sort of rhythm.

"Yeah the goal was big. But I was just saying we were confident when we were down 2-0. We were playing a lot like we did in the first period the other night, playing the right way, and just couldn't get one by Bobrovsky, [who] made a lot of big saves for them," Orpik said.

And here's the thing, no team gets to skate around with the Stanley Cup after winning four games to get out of the first round let alone two to take a one-game series lead.

Whether it's the Pittsburgh Penguins who have been off kilter a bit in taking the series lead or the Blue Jackets who have let a couple get away from them, this series is still very much in question.

In terms of the impact of this loss, Richards said he had no special message for his plucky troops.

"You have to be able to put things behind you," Richards said. "Whether it's an emotional win or a tough loss, you have to put it behind you."

In some ways, the Penguins will be looking to put this win behind them, too, as they continue to look to sharpen the focus on their own playoff picture.

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