Game 5 Preview: The Time Is Now

The Blue Jackets earned themselves an opportunity, and that opportunity comes tonight in Pittsburgh. If Columbus can somehow steal Game 5 on the road, well, I don't have to tell you what that means.

Game 5 - Series Tied 2-2

Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins

April 26, 2014 - 7:00 pm EDT
CONSOL Energy Center - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Radio - WBNS 97.1 - TV - Fox Sports Ohio / NBCSN
Opponent's Blog: Pensburgh

Well, here we are. Things looked grim in the first period on Wednesday, but, as you all know by now, things can change. This is now a best-of-three series, with the Penguins having home-ice. But, if the two days off haven't killed all momentum, you have to think the Blue Jackets have the momentum. Marc-Andre Fleury's last five minutes of game play on Wednesday rekindled a LOT of discussion about his playoff performances over the past half-decade.

This game is the ultimate turning point, in my opinion. While a Game 7 can be a toss-up, it would be in Pittsburgh, which would obviously be a huge advantage for the Penguins. That said, Columbus is going to have to win a game at CONSOL if they want to advance. I contend that game probably needs to be tonight. To come home with even more momentum to a raucous home crowd with a chance to clinch? Yes, please.

That said, even though Fleury's confidence might be faltering right now, the Penguins themselves are still a very experienced bunch, and they've been in this position many times before. This is new territory for a large section of the Jackets' dressing room. How they handle the atmosphere will be huge. Can they continue to work and impose their will? Will they be riding too high on adrenaline from the other night once the puck drops? Will the moment look too big again for them early?

Most importantly, will a team with a lead finally be able to close out a game??

Good news for the Jackets: in addition to maintaining the forward lines that have been pretty good for the last couple of games, Columbus gets Fedor Tyutin and Ryan Murray back for tonight's game. Todd Richards apparently likes the Jack Johnson / David Savard pairing enough to keep it together, and Tyutin will draw in with Nikita Nikitin.

For the Pens, Marcel Goc appears to be back on the fourth line, which will help the Penguins defensively and in the faceoff circle. However, Brooks Orpik left practice early yesterday and did not skate this morning. I've left him in below as the Pens haven't announced anything official.

Here are my keys for tonight's game:

  • Special Teams - Each team's Power Play got back on the board Wednesday, and penalties and Power Plays certainly allowed the Jackets to get back into the game. In addition, each team has two short-handed goals in the series. I think both teams feel like the officiating has been rather horrendous in this game, so I guess at least it's even? The teams have 20 and 21 Power Plays so far in the series, so it hasn't been lopsided. It has been, however, inconsistent. The team that can figure out the line and stay out of the box should get an advantage. Both teams' PP units have proven dangerous enough.
  • Keep Shooting and Test the Flower - Much of it was Power Play generated, as Pittsburgh began getting lazy, but the Jackets tilted the ice in their favor in the second period the other night, and that was when the shot disparity really took off. Columbus needs to pick that mentality and effort up from the jump tonight. They just can't afford another slow start with the expectation of climbing back in. Shots early and often; let's find out how mentally into it Fleury is. I got the distinct impression watching the Penguins players after the tying goal and as they skated off the ice after the winner that they felt like the Jackets used to feel when Steve Mason was in net: no confidence at all. If Columbus can jump on him early like they did in Game 3, and then apply whatever lessons they learned that night (also, see next bullet), that would be a good way to go.
  • Stemming the Tide - If the Penguins score early, the Jackets simply cannot let them get the goals in bunches like they've done in three of the games in this series. Both Games 2 and 4 started off brutally for Columbus, and Game 3 obviously finished as such. When the Penguins score a goal, Columbus must do whatever they can to prevent the floodgates from opening. I don't have a prescription for that (you can't take a time out every time, right??), but to me that is the key. They have frustrated the Penguins' offense for large stretches of the series, but when the Pens get going, they can really get on you quickly. That simply can't happen tonight.
  • Vezina Bob - Bob hasn't been great in this series. He hasn't been horrible (he's given up some soft goals, yes), either. But, for the Jackets to win this series, he needs to be better. He doesn't truly need to be "Vezina Bob" (though we would certainly take that!), but if he can just be "post-December Bob" from this season that would be huge. In Games 2 and 4, after falling behind in the first, Bob and his team have shut the door. But, Bob HAS to be at his best for an entire 60 minutes, and tonight would be a great night to do it. If Bob can steal some saves against this offense, we've seen that they can get frustrated. With Fleury imploding at the end of Game 4 after what was actually a pretty great 59 minutes, the stage is set for one of the goalies to step up. Tonight, it needs to be Bob.

There you have it. Let's get this one tonight, and put the pressure on!

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets
(regular season: 43-32-7, 93 Points; 4th division, 7th conference)

Boone Jenner Ryan Johansen Jack Skille
Matt Calvert Brandon Dubinsky Cam Atkinson
R.J. Umberger Artem Anisimov Nick Foligno
Derek MacKenzie Mark Letestu Blake Comeau
Fedor Tyutin Nikita Nikitin
Jack Johnson David Savard
Ryan Murray James Wisniewski
Sergei Bobrovsky
Curtis McElhinney

Pittsburgh Penguins
(regular season: 51-24-7, 109 Points; 1st Division, 2nd Conference)

Chris Kunitz Sidney Crosby Lee Stempniak
Jussi Jokinen Evgeni Malkin James Neal
Joe Vitale Brandon Sutter Beau Bennett
Tanner Glass Marcel Goc Craig Adams
Brooks Orpik Paul Martin
Rob Scuderi Kris Letang
Olli Maatta Matt Niskanen
Marc-Andre Fleury
Jeff Zatkoff

Series Results

04/16/14 - Columbus 3 at Pittsburgh 4
04/19/14 - Columbus 4 at Pittsburgh 3 (2OT)
04/21/14 - Pittsburgh 4 at Columbus 3
04/23/14 - Pittsburgh 3 at Columbus 4 (OT)
04/26/14 - Columbus at Pittsburgh
04/28/14 - Pittsburgh at Columbus
04/30/14 - Columbus at Pittsburgh*
*if necessary

Head to Head Stats

Pittsburgh Columbus
3.50 GPG 3.50
3.50 GAPG 3.50
35.0 SPG 36.2
.903 SV% .900
19.0% (4-for-21) PP% 25.0% (5-for-20)
75.0% (15-for-20) PK% 81.0% (17-for-21)
four tied, 2 G leader Jack Johnson, 3
Paul Martin, 8 A leader Brandon Dubinsky, 5
Paul Martin, 8 Pts leader Brandon Dubinsky, 6
Kris Letang, 8 PIM leader Blake Comeau, 8

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