COLUMBUS, Ohio — For the first three games of their first-round playoff series with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Penguins started slowly in one way or another before surging back to win.

It was exciting for television viewers and dramatic for fans in attendance. Probably fun for the players involved, too.

It’s also no way to win a Stanley Cup.

It’s just too difficult a trick to pull off four times in a row, let alone 16 times in two months.

Columbus jumped out to a three-goal lead early, blunted a comeback bid with third-period goals from William Karlsson and Boone Jenner and beat the Penguins, 5-4, Tuesday night to avoid a sweep.

The Penguins’ Bryan Rust watches as Ron Hainsey’s shot beats the Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky in the second period Tuesday, April 18, 2017, at Nationwide Arena. For more images from Game 4, visit the Trib’s photo gallery.

Photo by Chaz Palla

 

The Penguins, up 3-1, will take their next shot at ending the series in Game 5 on Thursday night at home.

“It’s hard to score your way through the playoffs,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “You’ve got to play the game the right way. You’ve got to defend. You have to make good decisions. You have to be hard to play against. I don’t think we were as committed tonight as our team is accustomed to.”

A number of factors prevented the Penguins from coming all the way back in this one.

Columbus is known for its ferocious forecheck, and even though it gave the Penguins some trouble on the breakout in the first three games, it rarely amounted to scoring chances in the truly dangerous areas of the ice.

In Game 4, Columbus attacked off the rush more frequently and dumped and chased less often. Couple that with a handful of Penguins turnovers in the defensive and neutral zones, and it was a busy night for the Nationwide Arena cannon that fires after every home goal.

“It wasn’t so much getting grinded on the forecheck,” defenseman Ron Hainsey said. “They had some chances off the rush, some that (goalie Marc-Andre Fleury) saved, too. I think we gave up more there than we did in the first three games.”

On top of that, the loose pucks bouncing around the blue paint that were covered by Fleury or cleared by defensemen in the first three games ended up on Columbus sticks more often in Game 4.

“They were around the net,” Hainsey said. “If you’re in the zone off the rush, giving up chances, those things will happen.”

When it came time for the obligatory Penguins comeback, the line of Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary, so deadly in the previous two games, was held in check. Crosby didn’t have a shot on goal.

“I don’t think they had the same jump that they normally have, for whatever reason,” Sullivan said. “I think sometimes that happens in our game. Give Columbus credit. They played well.”

The Blue Jackets got goals from Jack Johnson off an offensive-zone faceoff win, Josh Anderson off a neutral-zone turnover and Markus Nutivaara on a counter-attack to take a 3-0 lead.

The Penguins got within a goal in the second period on a power-play redirection by Patric Hornqvist and a quick shot by Hainsey off the right half-wall, but they never found an equalizer.

The back-breaker came from Jenner about five minutes into the third period.

Karlsson scored off a bad hop off the end boards in the first minute of the third, but Tom Kuhnhackl answered with a rebound goal less than two minutes later. The Penguins weren’t in big trouble until Jenner parked himself in the blue paint and knocked in a partially deflected Brandon Saad shot to make it 5-3.

“It seems like we’d control the first, they’d control the second and the third period was kind of a free-for-all,” Columbus winger Cam Atkinson said of the first three games. “But I thought tonight we controlled it. We got the momentum back. When they scored two, we stuck with it.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.