Jason Brough

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Penguins say all the right things ahead of potential Columbus sweep

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — One more win and the Pittsburgh Penguins sweep their way to the next round of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.

One more loss for the Columbus Blue Jackets and the best season in franchise history comes to an abrupt end.

The Penguins enter Game 4 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena with a comfortable 3-0 lead. But as much as they would like a sweep, the Penguins know it’s dangerous to bring out the brooms too early.

“I think it’s going to be the toughest game of the series,” Penguins rookie Jake Guentzel said.

Stream Game 4 online here

Pittsburgh knows it will be facing a team fighting for survival in its home rink. Columbus missed a breakthrough opportunity on Sunday night, letting go of a 3-1 lead and losing 5-4 in overtime on Guentzel’s third goal of the game.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan is taking his usual cautious approach to Game 4 in what so far has been a competitive series despite Pittsburgh’s three wins.

“We haven’t done anything to this point,” Sullivan said. “We haven’t accomplished anything. We’ve got to make sure we approach (Tuesday’s) game just like we approached the first three.

“We’ve got to be ready to play. We’ve got to be ready to win a hockey game. We can’t dwell on the past. We can’t live in the future. We’ve got to stay in the moment.”

The Penguins expect the Blue Jackets’ best shot. And Columbus hopes to give it to them now that its two options are win to send the series back to Pittsburgh or start summer vacation in April.

“There really is no special recipe,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. “It’s just do or die right now. We’ve played good hockey. It’s unfortunate we’ve put ourselves in this situation.

“We have a chance to go out and play for all that we need to. I think that might bode well for us where we really have nothing to lose and I think it’s going to allow us to let our game go.

We have a chance to go there and try to make a series of it.”

Foligno and his teammates have to be kicking themselves for letting a win get away on Sunday. After the Blue Jackets roared out to a 3-1 lead after one period, the Penguins seized the momentum in the second and came back to tie, then take the lead in the third and eventually win in overtime.

“It’s the stomping on the throat, as graphic as that may sound, to finish the game,” Foligno said. “Really, that’s what we got away from. In the second period, we let them crawl back. In this series or in the playoffs, when you’re up 3-1, you’ve got to find a way to shut the door and lock it down, and we just didn’t do that.”

The Blue Jackets will welcome back forward Matt Calvert from a one-game suspension, but they will be without standout rookie defenseman Zach Werenski.

Werenski took a puck to the face in the second period on Sunday, left the ice bleeding profusely and then returned for several shifts in the third until he could no longer see well enough to play. The gruesome facial injury will sideline him for the remainder of the playoffs.

That makes the Blue Jackets’ uphill climb even steeper against the defending Stanley Cup champions, but veteran forward Scott Hartnell reminded his teammates Monday that the deficit is not insurmountable.

In 2010, Hartnell played a role in the Philadelphia Flyers’ comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the Boston Bruins to win a first-round series.

“We’re still in this thing,” Hartnell said. “We’ve still got another game to play. I don’t think any of us envisioned this. I thought we deserved a better fate. We’re playing good enough to win. There is a belief in (the locker room). There were good vibes that were positive. We’ll still here and putting on our skates.”

Related: Sedlak to replace Hartnell

Will Buchnevich get his chance tonight?

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Head coach Alain Vigneault wouldn’t commit to giving Pavel Buchnevich his playoff debut, but it does seem likely that the 22-year-old forward will draw into the Rangers’ lineup tonight against Montreal.

Buchnevich practiced with the power play yesterday. New York is 0-for-10 with the man advantage in the series — just one of the reasons the Rangers trail the Canadiens, 2-1.

“Our power play has had quite a few areas where it hasn’t executed so far,” Vigneault said this morning. “When we finished off the season our power play was giving us momentum, and giving us timely goals. I’m very confident that tonight we’re going to turn it around. Pavel there, or Pavel not there, we’ve looked at a couple of areas. We’ve gotta execute, and that’s what we’re gonna do.”

Stream Rangers vs. Canadiens on NBC Sports

Buchnevich was not a particularly big producer on the power play during the regular season, scoring once with two assists in 76:52 of PP ice time. But he’s got the skill and shot to make a difference, assuming he gets the chance.

If Buchnevich does play tonight, it may be on a line with Chris Kreider and Mika Zibanejad. Those three practiced together yesterday, with Tanner Glass taking turns with Buchnevich.

Related: Vigneault vows a better Rangers effort in Game 4

Trotz takes the blame for Ovechkin’s ice time

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Alex Ovechkin only played 15:08 in last night’s 4-3 overtime loss in Toronto, and today Capitals head coach Barry Trotz took the blame.

“That’s on me to get him the ice time,” Trotz said, per Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post.

“Sometimes, that’s situational. Sometimes, that’s the zone starts. His minutes should be — I can get those up.”

Ovechkin logged 2:28 on the power play in Game 3, much of it on a failed 5-on-3 early in the second period. That meant he only got 12:40 at even strength, the seventh-most among the 12 Caps forwards.

There was a 10-minute stretch in the third period, when the game was tied 3-3, when Ovechkin barely played at all. That was partly due to a couple of Washington penalties, but the coach could have found a way to get him out there more.

“It wasn’t based on play,” Trotz assured. “I though Ovi was playing terrific, and it’s on me to get him a little more ice time, no question.”

Ovechkin averaged 18:22 of ice time during the regular season. That was down from the 20:19 he averaged last season, in an effort to keep him fresh for the playoffs.

In other Caps news, defenseman Karl Alzner is still out. He’ll miss his second straight game tomorrow.

Jackets need Bobrovsky to return to regular-season form

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Sergei Bobrovsky was the MVP of the Blue Jackets this season.

He might even be a finalist for MVP of the league.

But Bobrovsky hasn’t been great in these playoffs. The 28-year-old goalie has allowed 11 goals in three games, all Columbus losses to Pittsburgh, for a save percentage of just .897.

Bobrovsky’s save percentage during the regular season was .932, and he’ll no doubt win another Vezina Trophy in recognition. If the Jackets have any chance of making it a series against the Penguins, he’ll need to be that goalie from now on.

“There’s no question, in the playoffs, your goaltender needs to be your best player,” head coach John Tortorella said this morning, per Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch. “Bob needs to be our best player tonight.”

Only four NHL teams have come back from a 3-0 series deficit to win, against almost 200 that have failed.

That said, two of the comebacks have occurred in the last decade, and it’s not like the Jackets have been badly outplayed by the Penguins.

If Bobrovsky can return to form tonight, the Jackets can at least get the series back to Pittsburgh and put a little pressure on the defending champs.

Canucks reportedly interested in Krueger, but is the feeling mutual?

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The Vancouver Canucks are reportedly interested in Ralph Krueger for their head-coaching vacancy, and Krueger may be sorta, kinda interested too.

The former Edmonton Oilers head coach, currently the chairman of English Premier League side Southampton, told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that he’s “had some interesting chats these past weeks, but my focus remains fully on the Saints for now.”

The “for now” part would seem to leave the door slightly ajar.

Krueger, who coached Team Europe to an unlikely spot in the final of the 2016 World Cup, made a similar statement in September.

“I came in here committed completely to Southampton Football Club and the future of that organization in my role,” he said. “You can never say never, but at the moment I’m very proud to be back in hockey at this level and to be competing. We are just having so much fun in our room, the coaches, the players, the whole group is enjoying it, and I am, too. But my real life is my commitment to Southampton Football Club at the moment.”

Another qualifier: “at the moment.”

Of course, the consensus candidate to replace Willie Desjardins in Vancouver has been Travis Green, who’s coached the Canucks’ AHL affiliate in Utica the past four seasons.

But ever since the World Cup, there’s been speculation about Krueger, who many feel got a raw deal in Edmonton.

Krueger was fired after just one lockout-shortened season as Oilers head coach. He was replaced by Dallas Eakins, who didn’t last too long on the job either.

Related: In farewell to Vancouver, Willie Desjardins defends his approach to young players