The Pittsburgh Penguins dug deep and put their best foot forward in these playoffs Saturday night at CONSOL Energy Center.
The effort led to a 3-1 win in the game and a 3-2 edge in the series.
Before we get going here, it’s worth noting that a couple of trends were bucked in Game 5.
First, the final score wasn’t 4-3. Second, the team with a 3-1 lead actually won the game.
However, the team scoring first is still winless in the series.
Anyway, head coach Dan Bylsma said the Pittsburgh Penguins needed to raise their battle and compete levels prior to Game 5.
Suffice it to say, the Penguins responded in a big way.
While the start to the game was a little sluggish, the Penguins woke up immediately following a power play goal by Columbus’ Boone Jenner.
From that point on, Columbus was on the ropes and Sergei Bobrovsky was the only reason the game wasn’t a blowout.
Pittsburgh made a point to send bodies to the net and pay a price in the dirty areas to score goals. That’s something this team hasn’t nearly done enough of over the past few playoff runs.
Two of their goals came with the puck in the crease and the Penguins crashing for rebounds.
On the first goal, Chris Kunitz outworked the Blue Jackets’ defense to get two or three cracks at a bouncing puck before beating Bobrovsky.
On the eventual game-winning goal, both Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen drove the net for a rebound. Sutter got just enough of the puck to move it in the region of Jokinen, who had an empty net to work with and he made no mistake.
In a striking contrast to the rest of the series, the Penguins kept attacking with the lead. They didn’t sit back and try to protect it. They attacked in waves and insulated Marc-Andre Fleury better than any other point in the series.
After getting drastically outshot in the final 40-plus minutes of Game 4, it was Pittsburgh’s turn to throw everything they could at Bobrovsky.
While they only got two pucks behind Bobrovsky, they hammered him with 50 shots. In the third period, Bobrovsky looked gassed at times, which you’d expect after facing that much rubber.
“That’s more fun to play that way when we’re aggressive and going after them, competing the way we are. That’s how you play the game. So, hopefully it’s something we build off of and learn something,” Sidney Crosby said.
At points this season, the Penguins would get frustrated when they weren’t capitalizing on a wealth of chances.
That didn’t happen in Game 5. They just kept coming, almost knowing that one would eventually tickle the twine.
- Watch Jussi Jokinen’s Locker Room Interview
“That was the plan for sure. We wanted to have 15 shots a period, I think that’s what we did tonight,” Jokinen said. “I think every goalie hates the traffic there and we were able to do that and find those rebounds. That was our plan, to plant a guy there and have second and third guy going for the rebounds.”
Crosby, Malkin Getting Closer
To a man, the Penguins stepped it up. While Crosby and Evgeni Malkin failed to score again, I’d say it was their strongest performance in the series.
The simple fact they haven’t scored and the Penguins still hold a 3-2 lead in the series cannot be understated. It’s a great sign that the rest of the team is picking up the slack.
Bylsma tried to get them going in Game 5 by putting them on the same line for much of the contest.
“I think a little bit just having the home matchup and having the ability to put them on the ice together with the matchups that were more advantageous to our group,” Bylsma said. “I think they wanted to be together to go after it and we had a lot of opportunities to do that tonight and did.”
- Watch Dan Bylsma’s Post Game Press Conference
“I think we went into the game with a good idea that we were going to see that on numerous occasions. I think the players going in kind of knew that was going to happen.”
Marc-Andre Fleury Stands Tall
Of course, all eyes were on Fleury to see how he would respond after the unfortunate events of Game 4.
Despite a first period goal that he couldn’t do much about, Fleury played a very good game. He was strong when called upon and I don’t think he left his crease all night to play a puck.
“I think it wasn’t about bouncing back. It was just about putting it behind and getting ready for tonight,” Fleury said.
- Watch Marc-Andre Fleury’s Locker Room Interview
Despite how much grief was being thrown his way, a special moment happened before the puck dropped. During the pregame ceremonies, the CONSOL Energy Center crowd started chanting his name to voice their support.
While we may never know just how big of an impact that had on Fleury in Game 5, he certainly appreciated it.
“It’s a good boost of confidence. You get a little goose bumps, when you’re in there, but it’s definitely a great feeling. We’re happy we were able to get a win here at home tonight,” Fleury said.
Furthermore, this isn’t the first time the fans have voiced their support in unison.
“It’s a tough game. Every match is real close and to get the support from the fans over the years like that, it’s been great,” Fleury said.
Don’t think for a second that this performance wasn’t lost on his teammates either.
“He was solid. I think he’s been through so much and had to deal with so many things. I think being in the league as long as he has and dealing with the pressure that he has, I think he was able to turn the page pretty quickly. That’s what he needed to do, especially in the playoffs. So, he showed his experience here tonight,” Crosby said.
Pens Can Close Out Columbus Monday
Now, the focus turns to Game 6 Monday night, where the Penguins will have a chance to eliminate Columbus.
This series is following a similar script to the one a year ago against the Islanders. If everything stays true to form, the Penguins will move onto the second round and await the winner of the Flyers/Rangers series.
It won’t be easy and the Penguins know that Columbus will bring everything they have facing elimination.
“We have to realize that they’re going to be as desperate as they’ve been and I think it doesn’t get any easier. We know the fourth one is the toughest. So, I think we take some lessons from this game, but also understand they’re going to be their very best and it’s going to take maybe more than it did tonight,” Crosby said.
- Watch Sidney Crosby’s Locker Room Interview
The puck is set to drop at 7 p.m. If the Penguins play like they did tonight, they’ll stand a good chance to win the game and the series.
You can follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/sheavedice