Commentary

Blue Jackets believe they can win

Never-quit attitude has Columbus raising questions about Pittsburgh

Updated: April 24, 2014, 1:26 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- R.J. Umberger had his shirt on inside out and backward as reporters gathered around his dressing room stall to ask about his role in this the biggest, most improbable of wins in Columbus Blue Jackets history.

"That's our team. No quitting all year. It's character. My shirt's on backwards here," he noted, still trying to catch his breath in the wake of Nick Foligno's game winner at 2:49 of overtime that capped a stunning come-from-behind 4-3 victory.

Under his left eye, there is a nasty red wound thanks to a puck in the face in the third period.

"We thought we had them on the ropes there the whole second period on. We started taking it to them," he said while still trying to get his shirt the right way around.

"This is bloopers, huh? Start over here," the Pittsburgh native said with a happy laugh.

"What a finish, though, eh? That's what it's all about."

Outside the Blue Jackets' dressing room, most of the sellout crowd at Nationwide Arena was still in their seats -- or technically standing near their seats -- still reveling in the euphoria that came from watching their team overcome a 3-0 first-period deficit and even this wackiest of Eastern Conference quarterfinals series at two wins apiece.

"I don't think you want to script this game going down 3-0 to the Penguins, but I don't know if you can script a better finish," coach Todd Richards said.

It was Foligno's dipping, knuckling wrist shot that eluded Fleury and gave Columbus its first home playoff win in franchise history. But it was Umberger whose sliding block of an Olli Maatta shot seconds before led directly to the goal. In fact, it was Umberger who somehow got up from the block, got the puck back and sent a backhand pass to Foligno, perfectly illustrating the appealing identity of this never-say-die Columbus Blue Jackets team.

[+] Enlarge Boone Jenner
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesA late-first-period power-play goal from Boone Jenner cut the Penguins' lead to 3-1.

"We talked about [how] the little things were going to win us the game before we went out there, blocking shots -- all those little things like that. I saw their guy have a chance to walk down, shoot; I just slid trying to do whatever I can to make sure the puck didn't get to the net, there's so many funny goals this series," Umberger explained, his shirt now draped properly over his sweaty frame.

"And luckily, I got the block and was actually able to get the puck, and I saw Nicky flying down the wing, I just tapped it up to him. I was getting off the ice, so it was a good feeling for him to score," Umberger added.

The win sets the stage for an emotional best-of-three that begins with Game 5 on Saturday in Pittsburgh and returns to Columbus on Monday night.

But first this one.

The game marked the fourth straight game in which a team has blown a significant lead and gone on to lose. All four games have ended 4-3.

But this one looked like it would be dominated by a different storyline. When the Penguins erupted for three goals in 5:01 in the middle part of the first period, the sense was that the big boys had finally come to play. Chris Kunitz and James Neal both scored their first of the series. They got a nice short-handed goal from Craig Adams. They were rolling, even if the Blue Jackets did get a late-first-period, power-play goal from Boone Jenner to cut the lead to 3-1.

Even when the Penguins stopped rolling and got into penalty trouble in the second period, allowing the Blue Jackets to creep within one on a Ryan Johansen goal during a long 5-on-3, it looked like the storyline was going to be the renaissance of Marc-Andre Fleury as a clutch netminder.

But the script changed dramatically with 22.5 seconds left in regulation.

The Blue Jackets dumped the puck in along the boards and behind the Penguins' net. It was moving slowly enough that Fleury said he felt he could stop it for his defensemen. But the puck jumped, and Johansen fed it into the slot. With Fleury trying to dive back into the net, Brandon Dubinsky snapped home the goal that tied the game at 3-3 and gave the Blue Jackets their chance at history.

"Sure, we get a little discouraged. We don't want to put ourselves in a hole, especially against a team like that, a team that has a lot of weapons, a good hockey team. We just stick with it. It's been the way the team's been all season. We just continue to fight," Dubinsky said.

In the dressing room between the third period and overtime, Foligno announced to his teammates that he was going to take care of the winner.

[+] EnlargeRyan Johansen
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesBrandon Dubinsky and Ryan Johansen celebrate Dubinsky's game-tying goals with 24 seconds left in regulation.

"I just said it more to keep the room light and just a little bit more motivation for myself," Foligno said.

"I didn't feel like I was feeling my best game all night, so it kind of got me going. Didn't expect it to really happen but happy that it did.

"You come out and you just start firing pucks and things bounce, and you saw that; it kind of just fooled him -- it dipped a little bit and I got lucky on the shot. But hey, you put pucks on net, good things happen, and that's what happened tonight," Foligno said. The Blue Jackets outshot the Penguins 46-25.

So much on the line in the waning moments of the game.

The Penguins go in the blink of an eye from heading home with a chance to end the series Saturday to having questions about their ability to dispatch a young team that seemed on paper significantly overmatched at the start of the series.

Fleury had been so solid, so to see the game shift so quickly has already sparked talk from observers about this being the start of the annual Fleury playoff meltdown.

"Last year doesn't matter," captain Sidney Crosby said. "He played great for us."

Crosby was held without a point and has yet to score in this series, but he won 16 of 25 faceoffs, including one on the power play that led to the Kunitz goal.

They knew the Blue Jackets would come out desperate and somehow couldn't match that, Crosby said.

"We weren't able to elevate our play in the second half of the game," he said. "I think at this point, we know we've got to be better."

Fleury, as he always is, seemed nonplussed. He talked about getting home, getting some good food, resting, having a good practice.

But Saturday looms large for this talented Penguins team.

Sometimes reporters will ask players or coaches about the fans' impact on a game. It's a bit of a throwaway line, white noise, often meaningless patter.

On this night, though, maybe there was something more to it.

The Blue Jackets had blown leads of 2-0 and 3-1 (in the third, no less) in losing Game 3 on Monday night. The fans at Nationwide Arena could have been forgiven if they'd been a little restless after the Penguins unloaded on their boys in the first period.

But they didn't. They hung in. They believed.

So, too, did the players.

"It meant a lot to the people even after the game," Richards said, referring to the long-staying fans.

"At 3-0, the way it was going, there could have been boos," he noted. But there weren't, "and that helped us."

Dubinsky said the crowd started cheering even in the moments after the Penguins' third goal.

"After they scored that third goal, they were chanting, 'C-B-J.' As a player ... I'm not sure that they completely understand the energy that they give us when they stick behind us like that. So, great character by them, and I thought our guys responded," Dubinsky said.

After the Blue Jackets won their first postseason game on Saturday in Pittsburgh, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen was asked about the importance of the win. His response was similar as he made his way to the Blue Jackets' locker room Wednesday night.

"Again, I say the same thing. I think it's probably [a] boring, boring statement; it's a confidence booster again, one of those little pieces that you need to build your confidence," he told ESPN.com.

"Believing that you can beat an elite team like Pittsburgh. We need two more though," he said with a smile.

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