Columbus Blue Jackets  v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Two

Blue Jackets gain first-ever playoff win, tie series with Penguins 1-1

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The Columbus Blue Jackets accomplished a lot of playoff firsts, but the most important came when Matt Calvert scored his second goal of Game 2. His overtime-winner early in the second OT gave Columbus a 4-3 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins, tying the series at 1-1.

The Penguins seemed like they were going to run away with the game on Saturday after taking a 3-1 first period lead and enjoying a 15-4 shot disparity, but Columbus showed its rat-like resiliency to come back. The Blue Jackets generated a 27-15 shot advantage in the second and third periods to send the game to OT, feeding into their scrappy reputation while bringing Pittsburgh’s focus into at least some question.

There’s something oddly fitting about Calvert’s game-winner coming pretty soon after the Blue Jackets killed a Penguins power play. In a way, it was the moment that one team finally scored a big goal at even strength.

Special indeed

As much as the Blue Jackets spoke about making things come down to 5-on-5 play, both games have revolved around special teams work. That was especially true in Game 2.

Before that overtime tally, only one goal (Brian Gibbons’ first of two tallies) came at even strength. Only two of the Blue Jackets’ seven goals have come at even strength while three of Pittsburgh’s seven tallies were outside of special teams. The Jack Johnson goal that sent Game 2 into OT came on the man advantage, for instance:

In other words, both teams have been living and dying by the power play.

Stars factor in

source: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images

Through one period, it seemed like Sergei Bobrovsky’s naysayers might be emboldened as he allowed three goals on 15 shots.

The 2013 Vezina Trophy winner really turned things around after that, however, stopping a game’s worth of Penguins scoring attempts (being that the contest went into a second overtime and he didn’t allow a goal since the first period). Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 41 out of 45 shots and often kept the Penguins in the game, although some will still place a lot of blame on Fleury.

As far as the Penguins’ star players go, Sidney Crosby had two assists but Evgeni Malkin couldn’t get on the board despite five shots on goal. While Calvert will garner his fair share of praise, this series might really be a moment for Ryan Johansen to gain some more mainstream attention; the rising star had a goal and an assist in Game 2.

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Ultimately, the Blue Jackets can stop rolling their eyes at most “first” stats and focus on a more legitimate one: their first-ever playoff series win. From Pittsburgh’s perspective, there might be a feeling of deja vu; they saw the upstart New York Islanders tie their first-round series after their long absence from playoff play last year.

Beard breakdown: Burns vs. Thornton (Video)

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Sometimes you need to ask important questions, breaking down positional battles and strategies.

Other times you can’t help but ask “Which guy has the better beard?”

In the case of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns, the San Jose Sharks boast two players with elite beards to match their elite skills. “Jumbo Joe” drew a lot of attention for his wild facial hair, yet Burns may very well have inspired Thornton to go heavy-whisker in the first place.

The video above breaks down those two beards, in case you’re itching for a comparison.

One thing that sparks little debate? Both players’ wives are real troopers.

Brouwer mulling signing with Canucks in free agency

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Troy Brouwer #36 of the St. Louis Blues looks on against the Philadelphia Flyers at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2015 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Troy Brouwer grew up in North Delta, a suburb of Vancouver.

We mention this because, on Monday, Vancouver’s News 1130 spoke with Brouwer — a pending UFA — about his plans for the future. And, lo and behold, Brouwer has thought about a return home.

“I have thought about it, for sure,” Brouwer said. “Family and friends, playing for my hometown, it would be an experience for sure.”

The 30-year-old added his father is a “huge” Canucks fan and that Mark Messier, who spent two ill-fated seasons in Vancouver, was a “big influence” on Brouwer’s career.

So, file that one away for the future.

Brouwer will likely have a number of suitors come July 1. A Stanley Cup winner with Chicago in 2010, he’s been a very reliable goalscorer — at least 17 in seven straight seasons — and is coming off a terrific playoff, in which he scored eight goals and 13 points in 20 games for the Blues.

The Blues, of course, would probably like to retain Brouwer. They paid a high price to get him — T.J. Oshie, in last summer’s deal with Washington — and used him quite a bit this year. Brouwer averaged 16 minutes per night in the regular season and nearly 19 during the playoffs.

Problem is, St. Louis might not have the cap space to retain him. Brouwer will almost certainly be getting a raise on the $3.66M he earned annually on his last deal, and the Blues have some other financial decisions to make this summer (like captain David Backes, for example.)

“Not sure what the Blues plans are,” Brouwer told News 1130. “I’m assuming we will talk with them before July 1st.”

Bettman: The ‘word’ on expansion should come June 22

NHL hockey commissioner Gary Bettman speaks to the media, Monday, Dec. 8, 2014, after attending an NHL owners meeting in Boca Raton, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)
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PITTSBURGH — Mark June 22 on the calendar. That’s when the NHL’s Board of Governors will meet in Las Vegas, and that’s when we should get word about the league’s expansion plans.

“That word,” commissioner Gary Bettman said today at his annual Stanley Cup Final press conference, “will probably come in one of the following forms:

“Whether there will be no expansion; whether expansion will be deferred until a later time in the future; or whether there will be expansion, and if so whether it will be a one-team or a two-team expansion.

“I am not going to handicap what’s going to happen. But again, when the board meets in Las Vegas on June 22, I am fairly certain that we will know more than we do today.”

The NHL is currently considering two expansion bids, one from Las Vegas and another from Quebec City. The former is optimistic about its chances, while the latter’s fortunes may have been dashed by the decline of the Canadian dollar.

On Las Vegas, the commissioner and his deputy, Bill Daly, were asked if the NFL’s potential foray into that market could affect the NHL’s decision. The answer to that question was no.

The other theme of today’s press conference was the Olympics. Specifically, the IOC’s decision to stop covering millions of dollars in transportation and insurance costs for the players.

On that, Bettman had a strong message for the IOC and IIHF.

“I’m pretty sure that our teams are not really interested in paying for the privilege of disrupting our season,” he said.

In other words, if the IOC and IIHF can’t resolve the “expense issue,” it’s practically a certainty that the NHL will not be sending its players to Pyeongchang‎, South Korea.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE