Gene Collier: Good time to be a taker for Penguins

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Jussi Jokinen hit on something after practice Friday that had that odd, distant ring of hockey truth to it.

You know it when you hear it.

"I think both teams would like to cut down the goals against," said the Penguins' resourceful winger in the dressing room at FrostyPlex. "If you can keep somebody to two goals or less, you can win some games."

Harumph!

And guess what? If you can keep them to one, it's even more likely.

So Saturday night Uptown, a night when the Penguins would fire no less than 51 shots at Columbus' brilliant Sergei Bobrovsky, Jokinen swooped in on a Brandon Sutter rebound and backhanded it into the Columbus net to put the Penguins up, 2-1 six minutes into the third period of Game 5.

Could two goals win the pivotal game of this quixotic Eastern Conference quarterfinal when no fewer than four had sufficed to this point?

Darned if two didn't, even if it became three when Kris Letang slid home an empty-netter with 61 seconds left, and now the Penguins are just one win away from the Eastern Conference semifinals.

"I think obviously Flower [Marc-Andre Fleury] was great in the net and they had less chances than they had in any game the whole series," Jokinen said minutes after the Penguins took a 3-2 lead in the series. "I think we were playing more with the puck. We probably won the faceoff battle [they did, 31-23] so we wound up with more puck possession and were able to play in their zone more."

Before Jokinen's goal, the Penguins looked perfectly capable of disappointing the customary sellout, which again included Russell Crowe, perhaps for no greater purpose than to remind everyone that of all the things Dan Bylsma called his Penguins this week, "Gladiator" wasn't one of them.

Just as likely though, the brilliant New Zealand-born actor was an eyewitness for Game 5 because nowhere in his life's experience did he know the feeling of having scored as many goals in a playoff series as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Yeah that big fat zero was still hanging in the air, even if Bylsma thought he had the answer to the enduring mystery of the missing scoring touches of the two uber talents who had started this series with the highest postseason points-per-game averages among all active players.

Bylsma yanked Malkin out of the center of the second line and put him on the wing next to Crosby in the first period, but somehow nothing and nothing added up to nothing.

"They wanted to be together," Bylsma said matter of factly. "They wanted to go after it and we did. We had a lot of opportunities to do that tonight."

It's worth pointing out that it's not as if everyone else is pumping in goals all over the place, and all the Penguins had to show for the first 40 minutes was a power-play goal on which Crosby and Matt Niskanen assisted Chris Kunitz at 7:42 of the second period.

The Blue Jackets had killed off 16 of the past 17 Penguins power plays to that point.

Columbus forward James Wisniewski, who had arranged for that power play with a cross-checking minor, thought it worked well enough that he committed a high-sticking infraction eight minutes later, for which Bobrovsky bailed him out with four superb saves as the second period was expiring.

Bobrovsky, of the Novokuznetsk Bobrovskys, probably hasn't gotten enough credit for what has become of the Penguins' robust offense over the past 10 days.

This decorated Russian shut down a Niskanen blast, smothered Crosby's attempt at ramming in a rebound, and gloved Letang's blistered slap shot within a minute on that same power play, and then turned away Crosby's back-hand attempt to foil the Penguins' 36th shot.

The antagonists put on display a relatively tentative first period in Game 5, almost as though neither team wanted the first goal, maybe because the team scoring first had lost every time in the series' first four games.

When it finally came, the game's first score didn't look much like a goal at all, but rather another accident around the Penguins net, which has become a noted high-accident area, wouldn't you say?

This time it found Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta sprawled in the blue paint, obstructing Fleury, who leaped over him to cover a loose puck, only to have David Savard poke it free to the base of the right post.

Boone Jenner knew what to do about that, tucking it home for a 1-0 Columbus lead at 12:55.

All that meant at the time was that the Blue Jackets had scored in 13 of the series' first 16 periods; the Penguins had scored in only seven. That wasn't the only area in which the Penguins continued to set a destructive pace for themselves. Three first-period giveaways meant the Penguins had more than doubled Columbus in that category to that point, 41-20.

Every night's a giveaway night in this series.

But Saturday was a good night to take something you really needed.

Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.


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