Monday, April 28, 2014

Penguins ECQF Game 6 Recap - Penguins 4, Blue Jackets 3

First off, that was a really fun series to watch. Sure, as a fan of one of the teams that was in it you would really like to see them win in four games and win every game by like three of four goals but from an entertainment standpoint this series had it all. Teams that scored first weren't winning, leads were able to be held, some late goal that led to wins, and overtime games. This was really fun series to watch and while the Penguins won this in six games it felt a little bit closer than that.

This game was all kinds of crazy. For the first time in the series the team that scored first actually won and despite having a four goal lead entering the third period the Penguins did their damnedest to give us a third overtime game. The Blue Jackets were pretty badly outmatched for the first 40 minutes of play and it would have been really easy for them to roll over and die, but they didn't. They scored three goals in under five minutes and had the Pens reeling at the end of the game. The Penguins buckled back up and got the win. It was a good series by Columbus but the Penguins handled possession for nearly the entire series and for much of this game dominated.

Much of the talk all series was about how Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby weren't scoring goals and how that somehow made them irrelevant players. Tonight Malkin looked like he took that personally and was a beast on the ice, netting three goals, and skating really hard. Not that he hasn't skated hard in previous games but he looked like he wanted to prove something tonight, and he did.

Maybe the MVP of the series for the Penguins was Brandon Sutter. For much of the season he has played with some, shall we say subpar line mates. At the end of the year and in the playoffs when the Penguins have been healthy he has had some better options on his wings and he looks really good. With Crosby and Malkin playing on the same line for the last two games it has given him some more minutes on a second line center role and he has thrived. He scored the Penguins third goal of the night on a nifty breakaway backhand shot. He scored three goals and assisted on a few others and was really solid until he left the game with an injury. I think where he got hurt was blocking a shot and he limped straight back to the locker room. Part of me thinks that the Penguins got up and they didn't want to put him back into the game when things were already in hand. Then things got dicey and you are without one of your best players. It all worked out and here is hoping he is alright and will be back in for the first game of the second round.

The Penguins really won this game in the first period. They held the Blue Jackets to only seven shots and controlled the puck for nearly the entire period. It was almost as if the Blue Jackets thought they could win the game by not controlling the puck. It is what helped them to get out to the 4-0 lead that they (narrowly) held onto. The Blue Jackets did a much better job in the second and third period but in 5v5 play the Penguins had a nearly 55% corsi for. Things got back and Columbus was able to come back and make things interesting but it was really the beginning of the game that pushed them to the win.

Kris Letang was really good in game five and he was once again good tonight. He was second only to Paul Martin with 25+ minutes played and he led the Penguins with a 75% corsi for. Granted he had 75% of his starts in the offensive zone but it has been night and day difference for Letang in the last two games over the first four. When paired with Martin he has been outstanding and while I have no doubt that when Brooks Orpik comes back he will be with Martin but the way things are going now I think the Martin/Letang pairing needs to stick.

Tonight the best players on the Penguins were the best players on the ice. They dominated 5v5 play and every man of the top two lines recorded a corsi for percentage of 65% or better and really had Columbus on the ropes. This has pretty much been the case through the series but it needs to be repeated since you aren't seeing the goals come from the big guys.

Marcel Goc was outstanding tonight. He missed the first four games of this series with an injury that came from the regular season but he was an integral part of the bottom six and every time he was on the ice he was doing something good. He worked his balls off at the end of the game when Columbus was trying to get the tying goal and he damn near willed his way to an empty net goal and in the process he killed nearly 20 seconds off the clock and gave Columbus very little to work with. Just a great overall effort from him tonight.

Columbus really needed more from Sergei Bobrovsky. For a guy that is in the conversation as one of the best goaltenders in the league he was pretty poor the entire series. I talked after game five that he played well enough to steal a game but the Blue Jackets didn't score enough. They needed him to steal a game tonight and he didn't. Obviously it didn't help that the Penguins controlled play for much of the first half of the game but he never made the big save and looked really out of position on most of the goals he gave up. He was really streaky this postseason and that was his downfall. It wasn't just giving up one or two goals, it was giving up four goals in 30 minutes before he figured it out. By that time it was too late.

The Penguins are now on to the second round which is a great thing to write. Many were worried when this series was tied at two but the Penguins buckled down and played two pretty good hockey games in games five and six. While Columbus had a great season and showed a lot of fight the Penguins were just a better team. Now the Penguins will wait the winner of New York and Philadelphia where those teams will play a game six tomorrow night. The Rangers are up in the series and while I don't think I would want to see the Flyers I don't think I would mind if this one went seven games. Beat up on each other for 60 more minutes, that is fine by me.

I think some are going to be a little underwhelmed by the Penguins but there was a lot this series I liked. The Penguins were a pretty bad possession team going down the stretch of the regular season but they played much better in the playoffs outside of game two. Including the game tonight the Penguins were the second-best 5v5 possession team in the playoffs. Having the puck gives you the better chance to score which gives you the better chance to win. I like that.

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