The playoffs are never easy and the Pittsburgh Penguins proved that fact last night in Game 6.
A 4-0 lead should be an automatic win, but nobody told that to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
While facing the final 20 minutes of their season, Columbus made a final push that saw them light the lamp three times in just under five minutes.
Fittingly, the Penguins held on to win the game 4-3. Of the six games in the series, five of them ended with that same score.
Game 6 also marked the first time a team won when scoring the first goal.
Let me pose a couple of questions regarding Game 6 and the series as a whole.
First, can we put the negative thoughts about Marc-Andre Fleury’s mental state to bed finally?
Aside from how Game 4 ended, Fleury was brilliant in this series. Take last night for example.
Columbus scored two quick goals to cut the Penguins’ lead in half. At that point, Dan Bylsma immediately called a timeout to settle the troops.
However, off the ensuing faceoff, Matt Calvert got a breakaway and Fleury stood tall to deny him. That save alone told me that the two goals didn’t rattle him. He remained focused on the task at hand and took the remainder of the game one shot at a time.
“It’s good. I think it’s a good test. Had to stay calm, stay focused. I think I was and I think I made a couple good saves in there and just happy to get the win,” Fleury said.
- Watch Marc-Andre Fleury’s Locker Room Interview:
It’s hard to even blame him for any of the three goals against. Shots through traffic and weird deflections are tough for goaltenders to pick up. It happens. He still had a solid game and series.
“Was every goal perfect? Was he perfect? No. He started the game here in Game 3 and let two goals in in the first five minutes and he answered the bell with his play. You can say that again tonight. There was not a ton of activity for him in the first half of the game, but when they did come, they scored the shorthanded goal. In the next 10 minutes, he made four or five huge saves,” Bylsma said.
However, Fleury was quick to point out that his teammates had a lot to do with his success in Game 6.
“The team was playing awesome, blocking shots, not giving them too much. I think only their power play was where they got chances and most of their shots. They got two quick ones to get back into the game, but I knew we were still in good shape. The guys were playing well,” Fleury said.
Evgeni Malkin Is Back
Next, I think we can stop questioning the play of Evgeni Malkin. When the team needed him to come through the most, he responded with a hat trick.
To me, this kind of a performance had been building for a couple of games. He was getting stronger as the series went on and the move to Sidney Crosby’s wing only aided in that.
While we’re at it, Crosby got stronger in the final two games of the series as well. I’d be willing to bet he doesn’t go without a goal in the playoffs.
Malkin knows that everyone is looking to him and Crosby to put the puck in the back of the net. Despite not playing wing for an extended period of time throughout the season, Crosby offered some support over the last two games.
“We understand we need [to] score,” Malkin said. “Today, [I was] more confident, I play a little bit better. Sid helped me out, of course, with a little bit of talk. We support each other.”
- Watch Evgeni Malkin’s Locker Room Interview
After the game, James Neal said some of the players encouraged Malkin to shoot the puck more. Malkin said his success in Game 6 was due to putting in some hard work in practice.
“I shoot [the] puck every practice. When you can’t score, you need [to] just work and work every day, do practice and [the] puck will come in. Thanks to my line mates, Sid and Kunitz. They did a great job [to pass me the puck],” Malkin said.
Malkin completed the hat trick on a 2-on-1 with Neal. According to Malkin, Neal was making it known he was open.
However, Malkin only had one thing on his mind.
“Nealer wants puck. When we go 2-on-1 he say, ‘Open, open,’ but I know I’m score,” Malkin said.
Bylsma also said he knew Malkin was thinking shot the entire time on the 2-on-1.
“I know it was James Neal, but, I was pretty sure Evgeni Malkin was shooting that one on the 2-on-1,” Bylsma said.
- Watch Dan Bylsma’s Post Game Press Conference
Malkin went on to say that after scoring the first one, he felt more confident and knew more were coming. However, he isn’t focusing on individual success.
“I think [it’s] more important we win [the] game. Series done, it’s a tough series, but we play second round. Of course, when you score, you feel so much better. You have more confidence. I hope in [the] second round, I start [scoring] first game,”Malkin said.
Looking Ahead To Round 2
I’m still a little concerned with how the Penguins played in the third period with a massive lead. They got away from what made them successful for 40 minutes, which helped fuel the Blue Jackets’ comeback hopes.
That simply needs to get better as the Penguins prepare for the next round.
“It was 50 minutes of extremely good hockey. Maybe the last two games were our best of the year, but certainly they made a push. They get a shorthanded goal and keep coming. I think we’ll certainly understand the importance of closing out a game,” Bylsma said.
Of course, some of that near-comeback was due to injuries to Brandon Sutter and Joe Vitale.
Both were phenomenal in the last two games and their absence was very apparent in the third period.
Speaking of Vitale, if you think there was any malicious intent when he went knee-to-knee with Blake Comeau, you’ve probably got an axe to grind.
Just because there was a hit in the corner prior to this incident does not mean Vitale went after Comeau and targeted the knee. This was simply a case of two players turning opposite directions and colliding. Period.
“I thought it was totally inadvertent. Two guys, one guy swinging out offensively, one guy swinging in defensively. I think, unfortunately, it was after a hit in the corner and the ref possibly thought that it was more than inadvertent contact,” Bylsma said.
Here’s the common sense reasoning.
If you were going to try and get back at a player, would you risk personal injury to yourself? Of course not.
So, why on Earth would you think Vitale would risk blowing out a knee to go after Comeau?
The short answer is – he wouldn’t. This was an unfortunate accident and nothing more. Let’s just hope both he and Sutter are healthy to start the next series.
Anyway, breathe easy for a couple of days and enjoy the first round win. It only gets tougher from here.
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