The Columbus Blue Jackets have endured plenty of twists and turns during their franchise-best season, and Cam Atkinson isn’t interested in seeing the wild ride come to an end. After staving off elimination with a win in Columbus, Atkinson and the Blue Jackets look to repeat the feat in Pittsburgh on Thursday when they play Game 5 of their Eastern Conference first-round series against the reigning Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
“We have nothing to lose,” the 27-year-old Atkinson told the Columbus Dispatch on the heels of Tuesday’s 5-4 victory at Nationwide Arena that closed the Blue Jackets’ deficit to 3-1 in the series. “We’re still down. We’re still crawling back into this. But it’s huge for us to get momentum. A lot of guys contributed, so feel good about this, get ready to work and we’ll head to Pitt. Just play our game and we’ll have success.” Pittsburgh rookie Jake Guentzel continued his successful run by scoring on Wednesday to increase his point total to six (five goals, one assist) in the last three games while his goal total is the most in the first four career postseason contests since Montreal’s Maurice “Rocket” Richard in 1944. The 22-year-old Guentzel’s point total is tied with Phil Kessel and trails Evgeni Malkin, who notched two assists to record his third multi-point game of the series and push his point total to an NHL-best eight (two goals, six assists).
TV: 7 p.m. ET, NHL Network, Sportsnet, TVA Sports, FSN Ohio (Columbus), ROOT (Pittsburgh)
ABOUT THE BLUE JACKETS: Rookie Markus Nutivaara stepped up in place of injured defenseman Zach Werenski on Tuesday, scoring a goal in the second period and setting up Boone Jenner for another in the third during his NHL postseason debut. “Of course I had butterflies, but I just wanted to enjoy ... enjoy every moment I could get out there,” the 22-year-old Finn told the Columbus Dispatch. Coach John Tortorella was quick to praise Nutivaara by saying he “played to his strengths,” a nice compliment considering the coach had passed up the youngster in the series in favor of Scott Harrington and the inexperienced Gabriel Carlsson.
ABOUT THE PENGUINS: While gladly accepting how his team finishes, Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan repeatedly has taken issue with its sluggish starts in the series. The Penguins were outshot 16-3 in the first period of the opener, 12-7 in Game 2 and fell behind 3-1 and 2-0 on the scoreboard in the next two contests, much to the dismay of Sullivan. “It’s about being ready from the drop of the puck. It’s a mindset. It’s not a wait-and-see approach,” Sullivan said following Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve got to be ready to dictate the terms from the very first puck drop.”
1. Pittsburgh G Marc-Andre Fleury, who is tied with Tom Barrasso (56) for the most playoff wins in franchise history, turned aside 70 of 72 shots in the first two games before yielding nine goals on 71 shots in the last two.
2. Columbus’ line of C William Karlsson (goal, assist), LW Matt Calvert (assist) and RW Josh Anderson (goal) combined for four points and a plus-8 rating in Game 4.
3. Penguins captain Sidney Crosby was held without a shot in Game 4 after mustering nine en route to scoring a goal and setting up two others in the previous two contests.
PREDICTION: Penguins 3, Blue Jackets 2