The intrigue began just prior to puck drop, with expected Pittsburgh starter Matt Murray tweaking something in warmup leading to Marc-Andre Fleury getting the nod.
Brandon Dubinsky wasted no time setting the tone after winning the opening faceoff, dogging Sidney Crosby and finishing his first shift with a shot on-net.
The early pace was fast and furious, with the first good chance coming off the stick of Phil Kessel, though the attempt was thwarted by Sergei Bobrovsky. The chance was a result of a mis-read by the surprise third pairing duo of rookie Gabriel Carlsson and the little-used Scott Harrington.
Shortly after, near the midpoint of the first period, the Jackets left a loose puck in the blue paint with Fleury out of position, but followed it up with a stretch of sustained offensive pressure.
With 2:21 left in the opening period, Olli Maatta was whistled for hooking on William Karlsson, giving the Jackets the first powerplay of the game. The Jackets would get four shots on the Penguins net, and though they were unable to convert both units looked dangerous and certainly caused Fleury to get uncomfortable.
The shots after the first period were 16-3 in favour of the Jackets.
The Pens must have received an earful from Mike Sullivan during the intermission, as they came out flying to start the second period, and were able to open the scoring.
Evgeni Malkin received the puck at the Columbus blueline, firing a pass cross-ice to Phil Kessell, who directed the puck off his skate to Bryan Rust. Rust then wired the puck past Bobrovsky.
1-0 Penguins - Bryan Rust 1 (Phil Kessel 1, Evgeni Malkin 1)
The Jackets were thrown off the rails by the goal, and a few moments later Matt Calvert was sent to the box, giving the Penguins their first powerplay. Kessel wasted little time putting his team up by two, wiring a wrister over an out-of-position Harrington.
2-0 Penguins - Phil Kessel 1 (PP) (Nick Schultz 1, Evgeni Malkin 2)
On the subsequent faceoff, Matt Cullen caught Wennberg in the face with his stick, and despite a meeting of the officials there was no call.
Kessel would come close again shortly after, being sent in on a crystal clear breakaway with Seth Jones caught in the Penguins’ zone. Bobrovsky was able to slam the door shut with a huge save.
Sergei Bobrovsky comes up huge on Phil Kessel to keep the deficit at 2-0. pic.twitter.com/VYHt1lAt0y— The Cannon (@cbjcannon) April 13, 2017
The Penguins settled into a groove after going up by a pair, and would add a third goal with left in the second. Nick Bonino beat out an icing and dropped the puck to Patric Hornqvist, who threw it toward the net where Bonino beat out Carlsson to whack the puck past Bobrovsky.
3-0 Penguins - Nick Bonino 1 (Patric Hornqvist 1, Olli Maatta 1)
With 3:12 left, David Savard was sent off giving the Penguins another powerplay. Jack Johnson made a terrific backhand clear with the puck loose in the paint, but otherwise it was no harm, no foul.
The shots after two periods were 20-19 CBJ.
The Jackets showed more life to start the final period, getting back to the hard forechecking and crisp passing that highlighted the first period, at least until Savard was sent to the box for interference. With the Penguins on the powerplay, the best offensive chance was a shorthanded opportunity by the duo of Karlsson and Calvert.
With 9:56 left, the Jackets earned their second powerplay of the night, but were unable to convert, but they did get on the board a few minutes later after a Pittsburgh defensive zone turnover. Josh Anderson jarred the puck loose and it made its way to Matt Calvert behind the defense. Calvert threw a shot on-net, beating Fleury.
3-1 Penguins - Matt Calvert 1 (Josh Anderson 1)
THE BLUE JACKETS HAVE SCORED A GOAL pic.twitter.com/TYGW45K8rZ— The Cannon (@cbjcannon) April 13, 2017
The goal gave the Jackets life, and they began their final push to try to even the score. With 2:24 left Calvert, Sam Gagner and Scott Hartnell came close to cutting the lead to a goal, but Fleury was able to secure the puck.
On the next faceoff the Jackets pulled Bobrovsky. He returned to the net for a neutral zone faceoff and left once the team regained possession. The final push would come up short however.
Final shots were 32-29 for the CBJ, but the numbers that matter were 3-1 in favour of the Pens.
The Jackets will look to tie the series Friday.