PITTSBURGH -- Not one, not two, but three chances from the door step - and the third time was definitely the charm.
Matt Calvert potted his second goal of the game just 70 seconds into the second overtime period at CONSOL Energy Center, giving the Blue Jackets a 4-3 victory that was their first postseason win in franchise history. More importantly for this group, however, was that it evened this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series at one game apiece as things shift back to Columbus for Game 3 on Monday night.
And this one, as thrilling, exhilarating and dramatic as it ended, was anything but easy.
The Penguins talked about a better start and backed it up, scoring twice in the first five minutes and putting the Blue Jackets back on their heels early. Both of Pittsburgh's early goals came from speedy forward Brian Gibbons, who was a thorn in the Jackets' side in the opening period before leaving the game due to injury.
But a power play goal from Ryan Johansen less than a minute after the Penguins took a 2-0 lead seemed to settle the Jackets down, and despite a late period goal by Pittsburgh that restored a two-goal lead, they never blinked. Instead, they got right back on their horse and stuck to their game plan of getting pucks deep, putting pressure on the Penguins defense and forcing them to play a full-ice game.
Calvert's first goal of the night - a shorthanded snipe in the second period - installed belief in the Blue Jackets and brought them within 3-2 with plenty of game to be played. In the eyes of Todd Richards, that's where Game 2 turned in Columbus' favor.
“They were very good in the first, but that’s something that I expected," Richards said. "They came out, they played hard, they played fast and at that moment (in the first period) they were playing at a different level than us. The shorthanded goal in the second period…I thought was the difference-maker in the game. It gave hope to our guys. It was 3-1 at the time, and it made it 3-2, and you could feel it on the bench. I thought from that moment on that we played a very strong game.”
Trailing 3-2 with under seven minutes to play, the Blue Jackets got a brief two-man advantage that turned into a conventional 5-on-4 power play - one that saw them get rewarded for a solid effort in the final two periods and tie the game at 3-3.
Boone Jenner attempted a shot from the slot that was blocked, and Johansen found the loose puck in time to make a one-handed shovel pass across to Jack Johnson, who went undetected on the weak side. Johnson fired the tying goal into a wide open net (his second goal of the series) to help send the game to overtime.
And on the game winner, it was typical Blue Jacket hockey.
Calvert entered the Penguins zone and got the puck behind the net to Dubinsky, who shook off Jussi Jokinen in time to make a centering pass to Cam Atkinson right out in front. Fleury made a great save on Atkinson's one timer, then another stop on Calvert's first putback attempt, but the third was sent into the top corner and sent the Jackets back to Columbus with home ice advantage.
"Every year I’ve been watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs...you see guys score the OT winner, and you always want to be in that position and know how it feels," Calvert said. "It’s a tough feeling to explain, and it happens so fast. Everyone jumped on me and I haven’t had time to think about it.
"It’s a great feeling, a great win for our team. Our first goal is complete and now we want to go back and play in front of our home crowd and have some fun.”
Richards and several players noted post-game that Calvert's shorthanded goal was a difference-maker. The Penguins had a chance to put the pedal down and take a commanding lead, but a heads-up play to create a 2-on-1 sent Calvert off to the races. His first career playoff goal wasn't the most dramatic he'd score in the game, but it was a goal that tipped the scales in Columbus' direction.
1. MATT CALVERT (CBJ)
Two huge goals in the game for Calvert in his second career playoff game, and it doesn't get any better than that.
2. JACK JOHNSON (CBJ)
Another huge game from Johnson, logging nearly 40 minutes of ice time (38:21) with Columbus down to five defensemen in the wake of Fedor Tyutin's injury. He scored the tying goal and did his best work against the Penguins' top players.
3. BRIAN GIBBONS (PIT)
The speedy winger was the catalyst early on for Pittsburgh and scored a pair of first-period goals to set the tempo.
STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS - GAME 3
VS. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
MONDAY, 7 PM