In the game story after a 4-1 Penguins victory over Columbus tonight, I mentioned there were two signs that the playoffs are getting close.
First, Brian Dumoulin scored a goal. His last one was in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, and he sometimes jokes that he saves them up for big games.
Second, the Penguins paid a physical toll. Bryan Rust and Matt Cullen left with injuries. Coach Mike Sullivan said he’d have more information on their condition tomorrow.
If I could have made the story longer, I would have mentioned one other sign that the stakes are getting higher: Matt Murray had an impressive night in goal, just as he did so frequently in the playoffs last season.
There are reasons to not pay too much attention to shots and shot attempts in this game. The Penguins played a Tampa Bay-style counter-attack game much of the night, hunting for odd-man rushes. Also, they led most of the night, so the score effect was prominent.
But still, look at this chart.
Columbus had a 39-27 edge in shots and a 60-30 advantage in shot attempts at even strength. The Penguins didn’t exactly tilt the ice, but Murray made sure they didn’t pay for it, stopping 38 of 39 shots.
If you’re a Penguins fan and you’re looking for something to get excited about as the playoffs approach, how about Murray has stopped 101 of 107 shots (.944) in winning each of his last three starts.
Sullivan on Matt Murray’s night pic.twitter.com/CsPfDhp8yt
— Jonathan Bombulie (@BombulieTrib) April 5, 2017
— Getting back to the physicality, losing Rust and/or Cullen would obviously be very detrimental to a Penguins forward group already missing Evgeni Malkin, Carl Hagelin and Chris Kunitz.
Rust took a big hit from Brandon Dubinsky in the first period, but he played into the second, so I can’t say whether the injury was caused on that play.
Cullen appeared to take a hit to the head from Scott Hartnell. He gave his jersey to a fan in an on-ice presentation after the game.
— Were the Blue Jackets doing some dreaded tone-setting tonight?
Scott Wilson, who left the game after taking a hit from David Savard in the second period but returned in the third, thought so.
“I think they were kind of trying to push us around a little bit. I think we did a good job of pushing back, but we’ve got to continue to do that once we meet those guys in the playoffs. I thought we did the little things right and not worry about that too much.”
— How can the Penguins deal with that physicality in a best-of-seven series with Columbus?
Wilson had one idea.
“They dump the puck a lot. We need to do a little bit better job of getting a little bit of interference for our defensemen. I think that’s something we’ll work on.”
Defenseman Ron Hainsey had another.
“Our game is moving the puck fast and getting it behind them and getting odd-man rushes. If they’re trying to come the other way and get hits, we’re trying to get it back behind them and create rushes and we did that tonight. That’s how we got a few of our goals, getting in behind their guys, using speed, real good passing and getting on the board. That’s how this team is going to win. Period. End of story. They did it last year. We’re going to continue the same idea.”
Bye for now,