Penguins finish off Blue Jackets with 5-2 win, advance to semifinals
April 20, 2017 9:41 PM
Penguins defenseman Trevor Daley upends Blue Jackets forward Brandon Saad in front of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the first period Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
Trevor Daley, center, celebrates a goal by Scott Wilson in the third period against the Blue Jackets Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury makes a save on a shot from the Blue Jackets' Boone Jenner in the second period Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
By Jason Mackey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the Penguins blew their chance at a sweep Tuesday in Columbus, coach Mike Sullivan emphasized the need for everyone to reset their mindset.
Sullivan’s team had to do that a few times Thursday, but the Penguins ultimately got the result they desired, a 5-2 win over the Blue Jackets in Game 5 of their opening-round series at PPG Paints Arena that pushed the Penguins through to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
It’s that sort of ability, to assess and readjust on the fly, that separates the Penguins from most teams.
“Guys in the locker room have been there before,” said Bryan Rust, the offensive hero on this night with a pair of goals, including the game-winner. “We’ve had elimination games that we haven’t won. We just try to take each day as it comes. Each day is a new day. You can learn from the past game and move forward. I think we embraced the challenge and had fun with it.”
A few of those veterans Rust alluded to stood tall in this one, too.
After a lousy second period that saw them nearly fritter away a 3-0 lead, several Penguins leaders stood up in the dressing room and addressed the poor performance.
One that nearly brought with it another trip to Columbus.
“We needed to reset a little bit,” Matt Cullen said. “You can carry that with you into the third period, then who knows where we end up?
“We didn’t have a good second period. We were able to come in here. All of us knew we weren’t happy with what had happened. We were able to sort of reset, step back, take a look at the situation and say, ‘If we have our best period here, we’re moving on.’ I think as a group we did a good job of that.”
In addition to Rust’s two goals, Evgeni Malkin contributed three assists, and Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 49 of 51 shots to make this one happen.
Jake Guentzel led the Penguins in goals this series against the Blue Jackets with five, followed by Rust’s four.
Malkin tallied 11 points in the five games, matching his career-high for points in a playoff series. He also had that many in six games against the New York Islanders in the 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
The biggest turning point in Thursday’s game came with a sequence early in the third period.
Columbus had what looked to be the game-tying goal wiped out because Alexander Wennberg made contact with Fleury and was called for goaltender interference.
Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella protested vehemently on the bench but afterward didn’t feel much like dissecting the play.
“You guys watched the game,” Tortorella said. “You don’t need my help with that.”
A follow-up came on whether Tortorella thought Fleury was out of the crease when the contact occurred.
“I’m not talking about the play,” Tortorella said. “Stop baiting me into it, please.
“There’s no sense of me having a viewpoint on it. It happened.”
On the ensuing power play, Sidney Crosby blasted a one-timer from the right circle to extend the Penguins’ lead to 4-2 and allow them the opportunity to breathe.
“I think that’s one of the things that makes our team as competitive as it is,” Sullivan said. “These guys get big goals at key times that change outcomes.”
And, of course, manage momentum swings, which the Penguins had to do early on.
Despite talking about wanting to have a better start, the Penguins played the first five minutes like they wanted to see more of Columbus.
Thankfully for them, Fleury held the fort, denying Cam Atkinson from point-blank range, then making another stop on Wennberg.
Phil Kessel scored a power-play goal to flip the momentum in the Penguins’ favor.
“Tonight was a big game,” Kessel said. “You never want to go back there. Flower played real well. They’re obviously a great team. It was a tough battle.”
Sullivan felt Thursday’s game was similar to this entire series: physical and back-and-forth, the need to handle such drastic swings heightened.
“I don’t know that, in any moment in any game, that any one of us felt like we settled into the game, where it was more of a controlled game,” Sullivan said. “It felt like it was an emotional rollercoaster.”
One the Penguins were ultimately able to survive because of their experience taking these sorts of rides.
Around the boards
Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno was a late scratch with a lower-body injury. … Rust has eight goals in his last 13 playoff games dating back to last season. In his past nine elimination games, Rust has seven goals and eight points. … Attendance was 18,585.
Jason Mackey: email@example.com and Twitter @JMackeyPG.
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