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Behind Fleury, Bennett, Penguins down Blue Jackets

| Friday, March 28, 2014, 9:57 p.m.
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The Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury knocks the puck away from the Blue Jackets' Matt Calvert during the second period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) blocks a shot by the Blue Jackets' Boone Jenner during the second period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio. Also defending is Beau Bennett.
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The Blue Jackets' Nick Foligno throws a punch while fighting with the Penguins' Robert Bortuzzo during the first period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
Blue Jackets goalie Curtis McElhinney (31) blocks a shot as the Penguins' Chris Kunitz (14) moves in while being defended by Jack Johnson (7) during the first period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
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The Blue Jackets' Boone Jenner is checked into the boards by the Penguins' Brooks Orpik while battling for control of the puck during the second period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
The Blue Jackets' Nick Foligno (71) shoots past the Penguins' Matt Niskanen (2) during the second period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
The Blue Jackets' Ryan Johansen (19) (right) collides with the Penguins' Tanner Glass (15) during the first period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
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The Blue Jackets' Fedor Tyutin checks the Penguins' Brandon Sutter while chasing after the puck during the first period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
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The Blue Jackets' Jack Johnson checks the Penguins' Chris Kunitz as the Columbus' Curtis McElhinney makes a save during the first period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
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The Penguins' Lee Stempniak checks the Blue Jackets' Derek Mackenzi off of the puck during the first period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
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The Penguins' Lee Stempniak skates the puck away from the Blue Jackets' Derek Mackenzie during the second period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
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The Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury flips the puck past the Blue Jackets' Mark Letestu during the second period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
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The Blue Jackets' Nathan Horton knocks down the Penguins' Beau Bennett while battling for the puck during the first period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
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The Penguins' Robert Bortuzzo checks the Blue Jackets' Cam Atkinson as the Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury stops a point-blank shot from Columbus' Nick Foligno during the second period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
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The Penguins' Simon Despres and the Blue Jackets' Cam Atkinson battle for control of the puck during the second period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
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The Penguins' Taylor Pyatt knocks down the Blue Jackets' R.J. Umberger while chasing after the puck during the first period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) keeps the puck away from the Blue Jackets' Dalton Prout (47) during the first period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
The Penguins' Simon Despres (47) is chased by the Blue Jackets' Cam Atkinson (13) during the second period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury blocks a shot by the Blue Jackets' Artem Anisimov during the third period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
The Penguins' Beau Bennett (19) (center) celebrates with teammates James Neal (18) and Robert Bortuzzo (41) after scoring during the third period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
The Penguins' Matt Niskanen (2) controls the puck behind the Blue Jackets goal during the first period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
The Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) makes a sharp pass during the third period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
The Blue Jackets' Mark Letestu (55) and the Penguins' James Neal (18) tangle during the third period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.
The Penguins' Beau Bennett (19) (center) celebrates with teammates James Neal (18) and Robert Bortuzzo (41) after scoring during the third period Friday, March 28, 2014, in Columbus, Ohio.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Their nicknames are Flower and Sunshine. They brightened an otherwise gloomy March for the Penguins.

Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 35 of 36 shots, and winger Beau Bennett notched the game-winning goal as the Penguins emerged with a 2-1 victory at Nationwide Arena against a Columbus Blue Jackets team fighting for a playoff spot.

The victory clinched a postseason berth for the Penguins. It may have done something for their confidence, too.

“We needed this one,” defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said.

The Penguins entered the game having lost six of their past eight, looking lifeless at times during that stretch.

Two of the biggest personalities on the team brought them to life in Columbus.

Eight hours before the game, Fleury playfully jumped into the Penguins bench area and tackled a TV reporter, much to the entertainment of the few people in the building.

With a sellout crowd in the arena at night, Fleury put on another show.

“His personality is a huge thing for us as a team,” center Brandon Sutter said. “Not many goalies have that kind of a personality. But he's our energy guy. He always puts a smile on our faces. And the way he played tonight was what we needed.”

Bennett also made those in the Penguins organization smile. Out since November with a broken wrist, he arguably was the game's dominant forward.

He led all Penguins forwards with four hits, fired three shots on net, consistently set up linemates Jussi Jokinen and James Neal and scored the game-winner in the third period.

Earlier in the week, general manager Ray Shero told coach Dan Bylsma that Bennett looked strong during a rehabilitation stint in Wilkes-Barre.

“I think Ray is a pretty good scout,” Bylsma said. “That's my assessment. That was a real strong game for Beau. Real authoritative. One of the better games I've seen him play.”

The Penguins were short-handed four times in the first two periods and often on the defensive. Fleury made two key saves at the beginning of the first and second periods, robbing right wing Cam Atkinson with a glove save and stopping center Brandon Dubinsky early in the second.

“I haven't won in a while, and it was a little frustrating,” Fleury said. “I just wanted to stick with my game.”

He helped the Penguins stick around until their offense came to life.

Center Sidney Crosby set up left wing Chris Kunitz's 34th goal of the season midway through the third period. Then, 47 seconds later, Bennett skated on the right wing on a two-on-one rush with Jokinen and coolly buried a shot past goalie Curtis McElhinney's blocker.

“I was actually thinking pass from the red line to the top of the circle,” Bennett said. “But the guy was playing Jussi. It gave me some space.”

It was the perfect ending to Bennett's strong performance.

“I'm not surprised,” Bortuzzo said. “Impressed but not surprised. I live with the guy and see him every day. I see the work ethic he has. He's been incredible, and I know he's missed the game. We all know he's got the talent.”

Many Penguins said they have come to expect such strong performances from Fleury.

It is clear Bennett's performance left the Penguins feeling encouraged, too. He could receive a look on the Penguins' top two lines in the playoffs, even if the Penguins get healthy. Bennett did nothing to hurt his chances Friday.

“He was great,” right wing Craig Adams said. “The puck was on his stick all night.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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