PITTSBURGH — The Blue Jackets delivered after 14 years of a mostly troubled pregnancy. They earned the first playoff victory in franchise history. They did it on the road, in comeback fashion, against the Pittsburgh Penguins, in double overtime last night. It felt like a breech.
Matt Calvert scored 70 seconds into the second OT, in the 82nd minute of the game, to lift the Blue Jackets to a 4-3 victory. A crowd of 18,619 at the Consol Energy Center paid witness. They were thinking about a sweep after 20 minutes, but the last thing they saw was a pile of Blue Jackets, in a fit of celebration, on a sheet of ice laid by Mario Lemieux and carved by Sidney Crosby.
The Blue Jackets trailed 2-0 early in the first period and 3-1 at the end of the first. They lost their shutdown defenseman, Fedor Tyutin, to injury by the first intermission. They gave Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Matt Niskanen — Niskanen — eight power plays. And they still won.
They imposed their will on a Stanley Cup contender. That is the nut of it.
The Penguins scored a short-handed goal early in the first period, and the place was going nuts. Amid the din, Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards sent out his second power-play unit — Boone Jenner, Ryan Johansen and Mark Letestu with Ryan Murray and David Savard, a bunch of children — and Johansen scored. That cut the lead to 2-1.
The Penguins struck again — Niskanen — with a power-play goal with 2:08 remaining in the first period. The Blue Jackets marched to the penalty box early in the second, and Calvert scored on a short-handed breakaway to cut the deficit to 3-2.
“We didn’t play our game in the first period,” said Brandon Dubinsky, who assisted on the winning goal. “They came hard — like we didn’t see in the first game — and I think they put us back on our heels. Then, we settled down, and we went after them. We played our game.”
They started grinding. They were, in fact, the better team from the middle of the second period to the end of the game. They cranked up their forecheck, got their cycle game going and ground their opponents along the walls. They were wholly recognizable. This is Blue Jackets hockey.
“It showed the resiliency of our guys,” Dubinsky said. “There are a lot of ups and downs. We went through a lot in the regular season, faced a lot of adversity — and it was the same thing within the game tonight. And we came through.”
It was microcosmic right down to the last line of defense. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was not picking up the puck in the first period, when the Penguins were marauding. He kept the Penguins scoreless over the last 63-plus minutes. It was his first playoff victory.
“He’s the Bob when we need him to be the Bob,” center Artem Anisimov said.
John Davidson, president of hockey operations, offered this perspective.
“As we go through this and think about building, brick by brick, you want to get in a playoff race, which we did last year. Then, you want to get in the playoffs, which we did this year. Then, tonight, you go on the road and play a hell of a team in a hostile environment, and you win,” he said.
“We did not have a very good first period, but we seemed to find a way. I thought Brandon Dubinsky up front and Jack Johnson in back — I thought those guys dragged a lot of other guys into the battle. And we found a way to win. We’re growing. It’s like super fertilizer has been thrown on our group.”
For the coaches and players, it is a critical road victory in what might be a long playoff series. It is a single victory for them.
For Columbus, it is a remarkable victory — almost unimaginable for so many folks who have passed through the turnstiles at Nationwide Arena.
Game 3 is there, at your place, Monday night.
Michael Arace is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.