COLUMBUS, Ohio — They certainly said all the right things. The Penguins insisted they needed to stay in the moment. No looking ahead. Can’t give Columbus life. Have to finish this thing in four.
Putting those words into action proved problematic.
The Penguins let a chance to sweep the Blue Jackets slip through their fingers with a 5-4 loss in Game 4 of the teams’ opening-round playoff series Tuesday at Nationwide Arena.
Now, the Penguins will look to finish in five at 7 p.m. Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
The Penguins’ spotted Columbus a three-goal lead in this one before springing to life with Patric Hornqvist’s power-play goal at 6:43 of the second period.
That triggered an offensive surge, but the Penguins weren’t able to tie the score before the second intermission, allowing Columbus to regroup for the third.
Marc-Andre Fleury was shaky in goal, allowing several juicy rebounds. He stopped just 29 of 34 shots.
Sergei Bobrovsky, an issue this series for the Blue Jackets with an .897 save percentage through three games, was slightly better in denying 27of 31.
For Columbus, it marks the first regulation playoff win in their history.
The Penguins were trying to record their first sweep since the 2009 Eastern Conference Final against Carolina and the seventh in their franchise history.
However, they dropped to 6-6 in their past four Game 4s with a chance to sweep; they’ve lost four of their past seven in that situation.
After getting saved by the bell, Columbus made it 4-2 at 27 seconds of the third period. William Karlsson shot from the right circle, chased down his own rebound and backhanded it past Fleury.
The Penguins answered quickly, though, as a rebound squirted through Bobrovsky’s legs to Tom Kuhnhackl for an easy rebound goal at 2:10, bringing the Penguins to within a goal at 4-3.
Boone Jenner stretched the Columbus cushion to 5-3 by swatting in the rebound of a Brandon Saad (Pine) shot at 5:37.
The Penguins made it 5-4 with a short-handed goal from Jake Guentzel at 19:33, his fifth of the series, but they would not get any closer.
After a lackluster first period that saw the Penguins fall into an early hole, Columbus defenseman Markus Nutivaara made things even worse, stretching the Blue Jackets’ lead to 3-0 at 4:48 of the second.
Saad took the shot from above the right circle, and Nutivaara, playing his first-ever playoff game, swept it under Fleury.
Then, the Penguins woke up.
With Blue Jackets defenseman Kyle Quincey off for interference, Hornqvist scored a dirty goal in front of Bobrovsky to change the momentum.
Ron Hainsey made it 3-2 at 16:24 of the second period when he whipped a shot at the net from the right circle that Bobrovsky never saw, the result of Bryan Rust’s screen in front.
After an unremarkable first 25 or so minutes for the Penguins — the Blue Jackets owned 38 of the first 54 shot attempts — the Penguins started to click.
They threw shots at Bobrovsky. They get out of their zone quicker. They had possession. But they weren’t able to get the equalizer before the horn sounded.
The Blue Jackets enjoyed a 2-0 lead after the first, which was easily their best period of the series.
It didn’t look great early, as Columbus captain Nick Foligno was called for hooking just 19 seconds in.
But the Penguins power play was ineffective, and the Blue Jackets wound up with the best scoring chance: A William Karlsson shot that Fleury gloved.
Quincey, playing his first game of the series, blasted Jake Guentzel behind the net during the man-advantage sequence.
Evgeni Malkin had one of the Penguins’ few scoring chances in the first, disrupting a Columbus breakout, but Sergei Bobrovsky denied him.
Oliver Bjorkstrand skated past Olli Maatta on a rush around the 11-minute mark and seemed to have Fleury beat, but his shot missed the net.
Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson put Columbus ahead, 1-0, at 11:46 when his shot from above the right circle caromed off Sidney Crosby’s skate.
Josh Anderson made it 2-0 at 18:56 when he cut down the right wing and pushed a shot past Fleury.
The Blue Jackets out-shot the Penguins, 14-5, in the period and had 27 attempted shots to 16 for the Penguins, who also struggled in the faceoff circle, going just 5-14 (26 percent).