By Tom Reed/The Columbus Dispatch, Ohio
Sidney Crosby went back and forth behind the net in overtime Sunday night like he was skating some kind of cone drill. Instead of pylons, the Penguins center used Blue Jackets’ defenders.
After about five seconds of playing keep-away, Crosby centered the puck to young Jake Guentzel, whose shot leaked through Sergei Bobrovsky to cap a 5-4 Penguins’ win and put the Jackets’ on the brink of elimination.
It ended another tough night for Bobrovsky, whose goals against average (3.49) and save percentage (.897) are among the worst in the playoffs’ opening round. The best goaltender in the regular season, Bobrovsky has been ordinary at best in the first three games of a series against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
There are plenty of Blue Jackets who have failed to elevate their games, but they are not relied upon as much as Bobrovsky. He’s about to collect his second Vezina Trophy. And, unless the Jackets rally for four consecutive wins, Bobrovsky is about suffer his second first-round playoff exit at the hands of Crosby and Penguins.
Game 4 is Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena. Bobrovsky sports a 2-7 post-season record against Pittsburgh. He probably would welcome a first-round matchup next year against anyone other than the Penguins and Crosby, the best player of his generation.
In winning two Stanley Cups, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have abused their share of opposing goalies in April, May and June. But if the Blue Jackets intend to build on a franchise-best regular season, Bobrovsky probably will need to slay his black-and-gold tormentors. The current playoff format almost ensures early-round matchups with Metro Division heavyweights Pittsburgh and Washington.
Crosby, 29, and Malkin, 30, are in their primes. Crosby’s lethal linemates, Guentzel, 22, and Conor Sheary, 24, are still kids. The Blue Jackets have a bright future as well with Zach Werenski, 19, Seth Jones, 22, and other emerging talents. But you can’t compete for the Cup without a goaltender who can steal you games in the postseason. Bobrovsky, 29, is capable of rising to that level, but he’s yet to prove it.
He made a terrible gaffe behind the net in Game 2, which led to the opening goal after the Blue Jackets had dominated much of the first period. He also couldn’t corral Malkin’s sharp-angle shot in the same game that produced the third goal in a 3-1 loss.
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