With so many other good storylines and incredible games going on during this Stanley Cup playoff season, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been left to compete against the Columbus Blue Jackets without too much scrutiny and glare.
That ended Wednesday night.
It ended when Marc-Andre Fleury went from being one of the reasons the Penguins were beating the Blue Jackets to one of the reasons they lost. It ended when the best player in the world in Sidney Crosby went another postseason game without a goal, a playoff drought that has now reached nine games.
It ended when Nick Foligno crossed the blue line in overtime and sent a wrister past Fleury that is now among the most memorable Blue Jackets goals scored in Nationwide Arena, a moment made even better because he called it.
With the series tied 2-2 between a team with Stanley Cup aspirations against one that hadn’t ever won a playoff game, the pressure is now mounting on the Penguins to avoid a first-round exit, one that would no doubt come with consequences.
Fair or not, if it ends badly for Pittsburgh, the focus of the blame will turn to the man behind the bench, as it always does. Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma isn’t the guy who let in a soft goal or whose goal scoring went cold at the most inopportune time, but he’s the man in charge. Although they reached the conference finals in 2013, that was the only significant playoff run since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009.
Every year the Penguins have come up short since, there has been a reasonable excuse. Sometimes they were missing their best players because of injuries. Other times they had to deal with a goalie meltdown. Last year, they ran into a buzz saw in the Boston Bruins, a team that looks no less daunting this year.
Still, the disappointments mount. The reality is, Bylsma knows he's in the crosshairs. That comes with coaching star talent on a franchise with championship aspirations.
"Should we win more games? Should we win more playoff series? Should we win more Cups? Should we win more regular-season games?" Bylsma said when we chatted about the pressure on him before the playoffs began. "If I stay in Pittsburgh another four years, they’re going to keep talking about it. They’re going to keep saying it. You could write, 'Hey, anybody could win with this lineup.' People will say it. They’ll say it. ... I’d be lying to you if I say I don’t hear some [stuff]."
How much blame Bylsma deserves is open for debate.