COLUMBUS, OH - After getting out to a 4-0 lead on Monday night at Nationwide Arena, the Penguins withstood a late surge from the Columbus Blue Jackets to win Game 6, 4-3, and take their opening-round series 4-2. They will face either the New York Rangers or the Philadelphia Flyers in Round 2.
Evgeni Malkin netted a hat trick, which included the game-winning goal, and Brandon Sutter also scored for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury made 25 saves.
“Always when you win it feels so much better,” Malkin said. “This game was important because if we lost, we go back home in Game 7 and it’s tough. But now we have a couple days off, couple more practices and get ready for the next round.”
James Neal claims he was telling Evgeni Malkin to shoot the puck more. And he swears that’s exactly what Malkin was doing during the Penguins’ morning skate heading into Game 6 of their first-round series against the Blue Jackets on Monday night at Nationwide Arena, which made Neal think that the superstar center was going to break his goalless playoff drought dating back to last year in the game.
Well, Malkin did just that. He recorded his second career postseason hat trick – and first by any skater in these entire playoffs – to lead the Penguins past the Blue Jackets 4-3 and into the second round of postseason play.
“I think I could see it coming in morning skate,” Neal said of Malkin’s hat trick. “Everything he shot was going in the back of the net and we talked to him about it, he’s got to shoot the puck more. You saw that tonight. (Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz) made some great plays to him. With his finish, he’s hard to stop. So big game for our team and big game for him.”
The Blue Jackets gave the Penguins everything they could handle during the six-game series, so it was only fitting that the final game of the series would come down to the bitter end.
The Penguins looked like a team ready to glide out of Nationwide Arena with an easy blowout victory after taking 4-0 lead and with the third period ticking away.
But the Blue Jackets, as should be expected by now, battled back in the final period and scored three quick goals in 4:52 minutes to cut Pittsburgh’s lead from 4-0 to 4-3.
“You could feel the momentum changing and the fans getting into it goal after goal,” forward Chris Kunitz said. “The last three or four minutes I think we did a good job of trying to match that intensity, not playing on our heels, going back for pucks, getting pucks deep. We matched their intensity those last few minutes.”
Columbus scored their third goal, off the stick of Nick Foligno, with 4:47 remaining in regulation. So there was plenty of time left on the clock for The Jackets to tie the game.
But Fleury came up with critical saves and the Penguins came together defensively to shut it down and skate away with a win.
“It’s a good test,” Fleury said. “We stayed calm, focused. I think there were a couple few good saves in there. I’m just happy to get the win.”
However, the way they let Columbus climb back into games and erase deficits all series is certainly troubling, and Matt Niskanen said it's something they'll address heading into Round 2.
"I think that we care so much that nobody wants to be the guy to screw up," he said. "We just, lately, have been forgetting to play the game. We stop moving our feet and just slap the puck around. You know they’re coming. They get a shorthanded goal that kind of starts it. You can just kind of feel the ball start rolling for them. A win’s a win. We win the series, but we’ll have to talk about that."
Brandon Sutter is having a tremendous postseason for the Penguins, and he continued his strong play by forcing a turnover at the blue line and creating a breakaway that he converted for his third goal of these playoffs – tying him for the team lead with Jussi Jokinen and Malkin.
However, Sutter was injured while helping kill a penalty to Tanner Glass shortly after. While Sutter was able to finish his shift, he limped to the bench when it was done and needed assistance heading down the runway.
If Sutter’s injury is long-term, it will be a huge loss for the Pens. He was arguably Pittsburgh’s best player in Game 5 and was the catalyst behind their 3-1 win, which set the stage for them to clinch the series tonight.
The main reason Bylsma has felt comfortable keeping Crosby and Malkin on a line together more often than usual is because of Sutter’s play. He slotted up into Malkin’s spot on the second line between Jokinen and James Neal both this game and the last one, and was an absolute beast there. Sutter was incredibly effective using his speed on the transition to gain the offensive zone. Once there, he was a beast working hard along the boards to keep the cycle going and maintain possession.
The Pens suffered another loss in the game when Joe Vitale left early in the third period and did not return. Vitale collided with Blake Comeau after the Blue Jackets forward crushed Beau Bennett in the corner of the offensive zone, and both players were injured on the play. Vitale had been effective on the fourth line using his speed to get in on the forecheck and win faceoffs.
The Pens were able to recover from the losses of both Sutter and Vitale, however, because of their depth. Pens general manager Ray Shero wanted to shore that up at the trade deadline, and he did by acquiring Marcel Goc from the Florida Panthers – a guy who can play anywhere in the bottom six. Malkin moved back to the second line, Goc centered the third and they rotated on the fourth.
--Sam Kasan and Michelle Crechiolo, Pittsburgh Penguins