Final at Game 5: Penguins 5, Blue Jackets 2
Sidney Crosby scored a power-play goal in signature style. Scott Wilson followed with a sneaky, fortuitous finish less than a minute later. So went the Penguins' critical push to close out their first-round series with Columbus in Game 5 on Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.
Goals by Crosby and Wilson with around 14 minutes left in regulation gave the Penguins a 5-2 lead over the Blue Jackets, who needed a win to avoid elimination.
Nifty behind the back goal by Wilson will pretty much kill Columbus. It's now 5-2 in favor of Pittsburgh. pic.twitter.com/e7XLnvPM8p— Shane O'Donnell (@shane1342o) April 21, 2017
Marc-Andre Fleury's save total finall stopped at 49 after he turned away all 19 in the third period. The veteran netminder set his career high for saves in Game 5 of the 2008 Stanley Cup Final, when he made 55 stops in a triple-overtime win against Detroit.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan bumped Patric Hornqvist up to Crosby's line and knocked out Conor Sheary to open the third period after possession efforts have suffered with Sheary on the ice during five-on-five play. The Penguins' best form of defense often consists of hanging onto the puck and sustaining pressure in the offensive zone.
Less than five minutes into the final period, during a power play, Hornqvist went down hard and struggled to get up after he went head-first into the goal post as the recipient of a shove from Blue Jackets defenseman defenseman David Savard.
Just as the Penguins' first few performances in their opening-round series with Columbus proved less dominant than their three-game lead suggested, so did their play that generated a three-goal lead in Game 5.
The Blue Jackets, in need of a win to stave off elimination, put together one of their stronger stretches of hockey in the series to cut the Penguins' lead to 3-2 with just minutes left in the middle period.
William Karlsson, one of Columbus' most productive contributors in the series, got the Blue Jackets on the board when he buried a backhand midway through the second period from a bad angle after Marc-Andre Fleury struggled to handle the high offering.
Another puck dramatically found its way into the Penguins' net a few minutes later after Fleury got only a piece of a point-blank shot from Seth Jones, who skated into the slot uncovered for his chance. Boone Jenner swatted the rebound out of the air to earn credit for the goal.
Before Columbus found the back of the net, Playoff Phil Kessel has poked his head out and forecast a bright immediate future for the Penguins.
Kessel and Big-Game Bryan Rust, who wants nothing to do with that nickname, combined to put the Penguins up by two goals a minute into the middle period. Rust then struck again on a follow-up of his own shot less than three minutes later to increase his goal total for the postseason to four.
If you're emotionally uninvolved in this Penguins-Blue Jackets game, you're probably enjoying all of the action. If you're invested...sorry. pic.twitter.com/Xvcbg9IeTw— Bill West (@BWest_Trib) April 21, 2017
Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, given a vote of confidence by coach John Tortorella earlier in the day, continues to significantly shape this series — just not in the way most expected.
Phil Kessel's second goal of the playoffs looked quite a bit like his first: A rocket of a wrist shot from the left circle on a power play.
The winger put the Penguins ahead of Columbus, 1-0, just nine minutes into Game 5 of their first-round series on Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
After two days of talking about the need to start Game 5 better than they opened the previous four meetings, the Penguins proceeded through another sluggish first few minutes. The Blue Jackets built a 7-1 edge in shots on goal less than four minutes after the opening puck drop.
Matt Cullen rang a shot off the left post six minutes into regulation to provide the Penguins their first positive development in the offensive zone.
Penguins remembered they were supposed to play a good first period a few minutes late. But then they made up for lost time. pic.twitter.com/cicp02WwY5— Bill West (@BWest_Trib) April 20, 2017
Columbus finished the first period with a strong offensive push, including one scoring chance with about a minute remaining that required half of the Penguins skaters on the ice to form a dogpile in their own crease.
Facing their last chance to eliminate the Columbus Blue Jackets before their first-round series potentially gets hairy, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan is expecting a bounce-back performance from his team, especially its top two lines.
The Penguins missed their first chance to close out the series when they suffered a 5-4 loss in Columbus in Game 4 Tuesday night.
Sidney Crosby assisted a Patric Hornqvist power-play goal in the second period. Evgeni Malkin had two assists. A closer look inside the numbers, though, revealed some less impressive facets of their games.
When Crosby was on the ice at even strength, the Penguins were outscored 3-0. When Malkin was on the ice, Columbus had a 19-11 edge in shot attempts.
Some of that can be attributed to a personnel change Columbus coach John Tortorella made. In the middle of Game 4, he shifted long-time Crosby nemesis Brandon Dubinsky to Malkin duty and used William Karlsson's line against Crosby.
Whatever the reason, Sullivan doesn't expect the trend to continue in Game 5 on Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.
"I don't think we had our best game. Our coaching staff didn't feel as though we had our best game," Sullivan said. "When we have our best game, we believe that we can throw four lines on the ice that can compete against anybody or play through any sort of a matchup, whatever that may be. These guys have done it all year long. I know that our top lines – not just our top line but our top lines, plural – can and will be better."
Neither team is expected to make any lineup changes.
For the Penguins, winger Phil Kessel and defenseman Trevor Daley, who did not practice Wednesday due to "bumps and bruises," took part in an optional morning skate and are on track to play.
For the Blue Jackets, Tortorella said he trusts his patchwork blueline, which replaced Zach Werenski and Scott Harrington with Markus Nutivaara and Kyle Quincey, to suffice against the Penguins for another night.
"I think you get some fresh legs," Tortorella said. "I thought (Nutivaara) gave us some offense. I thought (Quincey) gave us some jam and a little bit of experience on the back end with a young D."
The coach also backed goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, whose rough series continued with an .871 save percentage in Game 4. After finishing with Vezina-quality numbers in the regular season (.931 save percentage, 2.06 goals against average), Bobrovsky has finished with a mark above .900 just once in this series.
"As I said (Wednesday), Bob has had a hell of a year," Tortorella said. "I think he in the last game there, the second goal, he'd want it back. But I thought he was outstanding after that. The three or four minutes left in that second period, when (Pittsburgh) turned it up, I thought Bob was fantastic. Third period was solid.
"As I said yesterday to the guys when we met, I know there's a little bit of chatter out there about Bob. He's a hell of a goalie. He's the backbone of our team. We don't have a sniff as far as where we are as a team if it doesn't start with him. So we're very comfortable going into this situation tonight, another elimination game, knowing he's going to be our goalie."
Bill West contributed. Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.
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