After the dramatic OT victory in game 4 that brought the Blue Jackets back into the series, everyone talked about how Columbus would need to deal with the Penguins turning up the heat.
At first, though, they didn't seem to turn it up at all. As a matter of fact, the Jackets really seemed to carry the play for the first five minutes. Head coach Todd Richards shuffled his lines just slightly - mostly by sliding Ryan Johansen, Brandon Dubinsky, and Artem Anisimov out with rotated linemates - and it seemed to be working quite well, throwing the Pittsburgh defense off just enough to allow Columbus to establish their game.
Things took a bit of a hitch when Boone Jenner was called for a high stick on Brandon Sutter, but Chris Kuntiz was kind enough to take an offsetting minor by knocking around Sergei Bobrovsky on the first shift of the power play, evening things back up.
Neither team found much on their first "power play", but the next penalty to be called would have quite a bit more impact.
After Boone Jenner drew a slashing call from Marcel Goc, the Jackets would start their first (and only) full power play. It wasn't a terribly clean or pretty one - Jack Johnson would lose possession on the very first draw and the team scrambled to get it back - but as time ticked down the Jackets' PP unit had pushed the Penguins' PK deep into their own zone thanks to Ryan Johansen delivering a solid strike to the net. As bodies floundered around Marc-Andre Fleury, Boone Jenner would find the loose puck and tap it into the net for his third goal of this series.
That goal seemed to wake the Penguins up, and Dan Bylsma made the decision to start shifting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the same line, which began pushing hard on the Columbus defense.
Bending but not breaking, thanks to a few excellent saves from Sergei Bobrovsky, the period would end with Columbus holding a 1-0 lead, but also being outshot 15-9.
That trend would continue into the second period, where the Penguins stepped things into another gear, and the Blue Jackets scrambled to respond. Not only were the Jackets BADLY outshot (21-8), they also struggled in possession starting from the faceoff dot and throughout the ice. In fact, they'd only win four faceoffs during the entire period (and just six more in the final period) - the first time in the series that Columbus really lost control of the dot.
Despite that, miraculously, Bob was on his game, and it was starting to look like he might just steal enough time for his team to get their shit together when, as you might expect, things slipped out of control.
James Wisniewski was called for a...somewhat questionable...boarding penalty on Joe Vitale, and this time the Columbus PK wasn't lucky enough to draw a canceling penalty early on. In fact, this time, Chris Kunitz was able to set up in front of the crease, while Jack Johnson and David Savard both struggled to clear the space around Bob.
Once again, the Pittsburgh D (specifically Matt Niskanen) would get things going - this time by passing to Sidney Crosby, who moved in off the half wall and fired a shot that would rebound off Bobrovsky's legs - a shot that Bob thought had gone off in the opposite direction.
Turned away from the puck and frantically trying to locate it, David Savard would miss an opportunity to clear it away, and Kunitz would take advantage of the failure cascade to tie the game up.
To say that put the Pittsburgh crowd back in the game would be an understatement, and the Penguins drew strength from their support. When Wiz went back to the box for a high sticking call, guts were clenching all around the 614 area code, but remarkably Bob and the PK were able to survive, eventually limping out of the period with the tie intact despite being outshot 21-8 for the period.
Yes. For the period.
A visual representation of the advanced stats after 40 minutes would have looked a lot like a google image search for "Hannibal Murder Scenes" (So very not safe for work, kids, grandparents, or stags), and yet they had a chance in this game thanks to Bob's heroic work.
That chance, at least in theory, remained into the third period, but the Jackets continued to struggle to get moving. Worse, the Penguins were able to turn up their physical play - sometimes past the point of what Columbus fans would consider permissable - and the Jackets didn't seem able to respond. Fedor Tyutin, back for the first time since game two, took a couple serious shots in particular, and R. J. Umberger took a hit that would leave him on the bench and receiving major attention from the trainers. Some fans are speculating that he may have broken a collarbone, but at this point there's nothing official (or unofficial) from the team or any media sources. Regardless, he got seriously rocked, and the Columbus bench got shorter at a time where they needed everyone they could get.
Things had been headed towards a breaking point, and finally, they snapped.
Lee Stempniak went end to end, starting nearly at his own goal line and driving into the Columbus zone. After a bit of pitch and catch with Brandon Sutter, he put the puck on net, and while Bob made the initial save, the rebound went straight past Nikita Nikitin and over to Jussi Jokinen, who slapped it into the wide open cage.
Once again, the curse of the opening goal was in effect for this game.
Somehow, that finally woke up the Columbus bench, but it was still almost fifteen minutes into the final period before we saw them perform some decent, controlled zone entries. As time ticked away, we finally saw coach Richards summon the team to the bench with a little more than two minutes to go, and brought Sergei Bobrovsky off for the extra skater coming out of the timeout.
In that horrible sort of "watching a train slam into a herd of cows" sort of spectacle, the first thing that happened out of that timeout was Sidney Crosby wrenching the puck away and heading up the ice....where he promptly rang it clean off the iron.
I'd say I feel for him, but my sympathy only goes so far.
It would have been the height of beautiful irony if the Jackets would have taken it down the ice and managed to find a tying goal off of that little piece of hilarity, but it didn't work out that way.
They had a few more looks at Fleury, but it wasn't to be. Instead, it would be another Penguin who has been under a bit of criticism during this series - one Kris Letang - who would benefit from the hard work of his teammates. Craig Adams got it out of the zone and up the ice, only to stumble before he could send the puck into the zone. Letang, however, was able to cut off Jack Johnson and grab the loose puck, firing it home for the nail in the coffin, and a 3-2 lead in the series.
The Blue Jackets played "their game" for perhaps ten minutes out of sixty tonight. No shame on Bob here - he stopped 50 shots tonight. Five. Zero. That's more than anyone should ask of any netminder, particularly in a game with this much on the line.
The Penguins found another gear. Columbus didn't. That's your story.
No matter who won tonight, Game Six on Monday night was going to be big. We all hoped that we'd get a chance to see our team close out this series in front of their home fans.
That's not going to happen.
Instead, they find themselves faced with another challenge - backs to the wall, and with their opponents smelling blood.
If they want to see Game Seven, they can't have another effort like this. But if they scrap like hell...they might just be able to stay alive, and where there's life, there's hope.