Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Penguins have to play better on Thursday


It was a delay of the inevitable, not a denial.

I expect the Penguins will close out the Blue Jackets Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.

“We’ve got to go home and win a hockey game,” an unhappy Mike Sullivan said, biting off his words. “That’s going to be our approach. We’ve got a confident group. We believe in this group. But we’ve got to be more committed to playing the game the right way.”

I get Sullivan’s frustratio­n after the loss.

“We just weren’t good enough. We weren’t committed to playing the game the right way. We weren’t committed like our team usually is. I know we’re better. I know we will be better. But we certainly weren’t good enough tonight.”

I also get the disappoint­ment that was evident in the Penguins’ room.

“We were not pleased with the effort we put out tonight,” Matt Cullen said. “We didn’t have the start we wanted. We didn’t play the game that we wanted.”

The start was horrible again. For the fourth consecutiv­e game, the Penguins were outshot in the first period, 14-6. That makes the four-game, first-period total 56-27 in favor of the Blue Jackets. They led, 3-1, after the first period in Game 3, but the Penguins fought back to win, 5-4, in overtime. Columbus led, 2-0, after one period in Game 4, but there was no comeback this time.

“We haven’t been as good as we would have liked,” Cullen said. “This is a team, Columbus, that comes out pretty hard. That’s sort of their hallmark. I don’t think we’ve done a good enough job handling that and attempting to dictate that ourselves.”

Another slow start contribute­d significan­tly to Sullivan’s angst.

“We certainly talked about it before the game. Being ready.”

If you were waiting for the Crosby line to bring the Penguins back, as it did in Game 3, you were disappoint­ed.

“I don’t think they had the same jump they normally have for whatever reason,” Sullivan said.

But that wasn’t Sullivan’s biggest problem.

Many will blame Fleury, who allowed the five goals after giving up four in Game 3. The Columbus crowd had a good time at his expense, derisively chanting “Fleurry! Fleur-ry!” That just doesn’t have the same meaning that it does at PPG Paints Arena.

But Cullen and Sullivan know the truth.

“We played pretty loose,” Cullen said.

“We’ve got to be harder to play against,” Sullivan said. “We’ve got to make them work for scoring chances …

“It’s hard to score your way through the playoffs. You’ve got to play the game the right way. You’ve got to defend. You’ve got to make good decisions. I don’t think our team was as committed as we are accustomed to.”

Say it one more time: It was just one game.

It was up to Cullen to play the Badger role.

“It was sort of a good check-up for us. We have to reset things and get back to playing the game we need to play. With urgency. They don’t just give you four wins. We know that. That’s a little disappoint­ing with what we threw out there tonight. This is the nature of the playoffs. We have to manage it. We know we didn’t play as well as we needed to or as well as we know we can.”

The Penguins will be better Thursday night. They are the better team. There won’t be a Game 6 back here Sunday.

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