COLUMBUS - Nick Foligno had some choice words for his teammates on Wednesday night.
With the crowd of 18,970 at Nationwide Arena still buzzing after his Columbus Blue Jackets teammate Brandon Dubinsky scored in the final minute of the third period in Game 4 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, sending the game to overtime, Foligno looked around the dressing room and said what was on his mind.
He told his teammates he was going to score the winning goal.
“I didn’t actually think it would work,” the bearded Foligno said after the game with a huge grin. “So I’m thanking my lucky stars that it ended up working. I am just happy to get that win for the guys.
“It feels great. We’re really happy to push this into Saturday (for Game 5 in Pittsburgh) and we have a huge test.”
“This,” of course, is the Eastern Conference quarterfinal, a best-of-seven series that many figured would be won by the Penguins. That still could happen, but the Jackets have proven beyond any doubt they’re not in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs just for the hell of it.
With the series tied 2-2 and down to a best of three, no one should be surprised if the Jackets wind up with a first-round upset.
Foligno’s goal at 2:49 of the extra period, a long shot that got past Penguins defenceman Matt Niskanen and then fooled goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, gave the Jackets a 4-3 victory and the first home playoff win in franchise history.
It came after Brandon Dubinsky, taking a quick break from his starring role as Sidney Crosby’s shadow, scored at 19:36 of the third period, capping a Fleury gaffe behind the net with his first goal of the series.
Fleury had been excellent until the Dubinsky goal, and finished the night with 42 saves. The Penguins were outplayed badly by the Jackets after building an early 3-0 lead, and if not for Fleury (and a crossbar hit by Matt Calvert in the third), likely would have lost in regulation.
But Fleury, whose recent playoff troubles have become a nightmare for Penguins fans, couldn’t make the saves when his team needed them. He tried to play the puck, but it bounced past him and to Ryan Johansen, who set up Dubinsky.
The puck on the winner by Foligno dipped, but there’s no question Fleury should have stopped the shot.
“The puck just dropped, I don’t know,” Fleury said. “Doesn’t matter, the score. A loss is a loss. Put it behind you, move on and get ready for the next one.”
Does Penguins coach Dan Bylsma expect Fleury to rebound?
“I do,” Bylsma said.
On goals by Craig Adams (shorthanded), Chris Kunitz (power play) and James Neal (even-strength) before 12 minutes had ticked off the clock in the first period, the Penguins had a 3-0 lead.
But they began to run into penalty trouble toward the end of the period and the Jackets’ Boone Jenner scored on a power play. The second was a disaster as Fleury was forced to make 17 saves, but Johansen got another Jackets goal during a two-man advantage.
“When you are down 3-0, mentally, you sit there and you say you have nothing to lose,” Jackets defenceman Jack Johnson said. “You just throw absolutely everything at them. You maybe take that extra chance or extra offensive play you would not normally make, because you have to push and try to create something and try to get back in the game.”
In every game in the series, a team has had a 3-1 lead and then lost 4-3. Foligno couldn’t explain it.
“Absolutely, it’s weird,” said Foligno, who missed the first two games of the series with a knee injury. “But it’s just so good to be back and celebrate.
“I don’t know if they were trying to punch me or hug me in that huddle (after the goal). I’m enjoying this run we are on right now and have to continue it on Saturday.”
PENGUINS SITTING ON GOOSE EGGS
Sidney Crosby has two off-days to figure out his next move.
“If there is something that needs to be said, I will,” Crosby said. “But we have lots of time to think about that.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins captain has not scored a goal in nine consecutive playoff games, the longest post-season goal drought in his NHL career. That’s had an influence in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the Columbus Blue Jackets, with the best-of-seven series tied 2-2 after the Jackets’ 4-3 overtime win on Wednesday. Game 5 is on Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Crosby did not have a point in Game 4 and has four assists in four games.
“I think at this point we know we have to be better,” Crosby said, speaking generally. “We expected them to be desperate. We have to be better.”
Evgeni Malkin also has not scored in the series.
“That’s not the story,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said of his stars’ zeroes. “We had a three-goal lead, and a 3-1 lead (in Game 4), and (the Jackets) coming back is a much bigger story than that.