Jokinen's even-strength goal keys Game 5 win for Penguins
Last year at this time, Jussi Jokinen was more likely to be a healthy scratch than in the Penguins' lineup.
This season, he has been the team's most productive forward at even strength.
Jokinen's third 5-on-5 goal of the series came with 13:44 remaining in Game 5 on Saturday night. It proved to be the winner in a 3-1 Penguins victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets that put them ahead in their first-round playoff series.
In a series that has been dominated by special teams play, only one other forward on either team's roster has as many as two even-strength goals – Brandon Sutter, who for most of Game 5 was promoted to a line with James Neal and Jokinen.
“He was very good (Saturday),” Sutter said of Jokinen. “As always, very versatile, any situation, any time of game. He's been great for us. His defensive zone play has been great… and he's a smart player who goes to the net. And that's the kind of goals you need.”
That was the kind of goal the Penguins got when they needed it most Saturday.
After more than 46 minutes of strong even-strength play, the Penguins finally got a goal on their 36th even-strength shot.
It came via Jokinen slamming home a loose puck to the left of Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. The sequence began with a shot by Lee Stempniak on a mini-rush. Sutter was in front of the net and whacked at the puck for a rebound chance before Columbus defenseman Nikita Nikitin tried to clear it out of danger.
The puck deflected off Bobrovsky to a wide-open Jokinen, who allowed the 330th consecutive sellout crowd at Consol Energy Center to erupt when he scored his third goal of the series.
“I was able to be there in front of the defenseman with the puck lying there,” Jokinen said.
Nicknamed “Juice,” Jokinen's demonstrative post-goal celebration proved he was just as juiced as the 18,618 on hand.
“Getting that goal feels good after we'd worked so hard,” Jokinen said.
Kind of like how this series has felt to Jokinen, who was a healthy scratch for seven of the Penguins' 15 playoff games last year — playing in only four of their final 11 contests.
After Jokinen had seven goals in 10 games late in the 2013 regular season after being acquired in a trade from Carolina, he was in street clothes for each of the final two games as the Penguins' season ended with a dud. The Penguins were limited to two goals in a sweep at the hands of Boston in the Eastern Conference finals.
This season, the Penguins' presently healthy forwards have scored seven five-on-five goals. Jokinen has three of them.
“We had a really deep team as a forward group last year and probably the coaching staff didn't know exactly what kind of player I am (yet),” Jokinen said.
“But now that I've been able to play a full season, they know me as a player… I'm playing with lots of confidence right now. It's much more fun to play in these games than watching in the press box, for sure.”
Jokinen's goal was the only one in Game 5 that came with five skaters on the ice for both teams.
Boone Jenner scored for the third consecutive game — and for the second straight on the power play — 12:55 into Saturday's contest. The Penguins' Chris Kunitz answered on the power play 6:55 into the second period.
Kris Letang added an empty-net goal with 1:01 to play in regulation.
The Blue Jackets (plus-8 goal differential) were a better 5-on-5 team this season than the Penguins (plus-7), but the Penguins have outscored the Blue Jackets, 9-6, when both teams have had five skaters on the ice this series. They had a 39-20 edge in even-strength shots in Game 5.
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