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Field Level Media - Professional sports content solutions | FLM

Mar 27, 2024 4:31 pm

Pens seek another quality performance, host Blue Jackets

Penguins, Blue Jackets

The Pittsburgh Penguins and visiting Columbus Blue Jackets, who open a home-and-home series Thursday, are focused on finding some consistency and feeling good about their performances with less than a month left in the season.

The Penguins (31-30-10), whose playoff chances are extremely thin, and the Blue Jackets (23-37-12), who have been eliminated from postseason consideration, carry different emotions into the game.

Pittsburgh on Tuesday knocked off one of the best teams in the league, the Carolina Hurricanes, 4-1, and did it by playing at the level that was supposed to define them all season.

“I think the biggest thing was we paid attention to the little things, the details, a little bit more, a little bit better,” Penguins goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic said.

Pittsburgh broke a three-game losing streak (0-2-1) and had been 3-9-2 in its previous 14 games, wasting chance after chance to get back into the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Even at this stage, the Penguins felt good about playing a game against a strong opponent that was tight most of the way before they sealed it with two empty-net goals.

“We showed what we were capable of,” said winger Bryan Rust, who scored the tiebreaking goal in the second.

Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby continued his stellar season at age 36 with a goal and two assists, giving him seven points in the past two games.

The Penguins, who have iced the NHL’s oldest team much of the season, also got a boost from a lineup that, because of injuries and coaches decisions, featured seven players 25 or younger.

“I thought they brought us a lot of juice,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “Their enthusiasm is contagious.”

Columbus, meanwhile, is coming off a 6-2 loss Tuesday against the Arizona Coyotes.

That was the Blue Jackets’ fifth straight loss. They are 1-6-2 in their past nine games.

“We’ve got to keep working,” said defenseman Zach Werenski, who scored against Arizona. “It’s just not good enough right now. I don’t know what to say. We keep finding ways to lose every night.”

The Blue Jackets not only are opening a home-and-home series, but also are ending a five-game road trip. They have scored first in every game so far, but to no avail, going 0-3-1.

Detroit, then Colorado, Vegas and Arizona have outscored Columbus by a combined 19-5 after the Blue Jackets took those 1-0 leads.

“When we compete like we did the first period (Tuesday), we’re a good hockey team. When we don’t, you see what happens,” Werenski said. “It’s only the guys in here that are going to get us out of it.”

The Blue Jackets sit last in the Eastern Conference, and the path to finishing out of the cellar looks difficult. They are six points behind Ottawa, which has two games in hand.

A sweep in the two games against Pittsburgh would help, or at least it would feel good to get a win to end the road trip.

“It’s tough,” Columbus forward Johnny Gaudreau said. “We’ve been on this road trip for eight, nine nights and played four games and only come away with one point.

“We’ve got to find a way to finish this trip off the right way in Pittsburgh.”

–Field Level Media

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