Penguins survive late Blue Jackets surge to win series

Jussi Jokinen #36 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Fedor Tyutin #51 of the Columbus Blue Jackets...

Jussi Jokinen #36 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Fedor Tyutin #51 of the Columbus Blue Jackets chase after the puck during the first period of Game 6 of the first round of the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Nationwide Arena on April 28, 2014 in Columbus, Ohio. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Images/AFP)

Terry Koshan, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:56 AM ET

COLUMBUS - James Neal couldn’t take his eyes off Evgeni Malkin when the Pittsburgh Penguins got on the ice early on Monday.

“He was firing the puck in the morning skate and hitting the back of the net every time,” Neal said. “I know he was feeling confident.”

That confidence for Malkin spilled over into Monday night and Game 6 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Riding a post-season slump that had reached nine games without a goal, Malkin snapped out of it in a big way, recording his second career playoff hat trick to propel the Penguins to a 4-3 win at Nationwide Arena and a berth in the conference semifinals.

The Penguins won the best-of-seven against the Jackets in six games and will face the New York Rangers or the Philadelphia Flyers in the next round.

“It’s more important that we win the game and the series is done,” Malkin said after being asked about his three-goal performance. “You feel so much better. I hope in the second round, I start to score in the first game.”

The Jackets, thanks to a resolve that most young teams simply don’t possess, already had earned the respect of the Penguins prior to Game 6. There had been comebacks throughout the series on both sides, and Columbus didn’t play like a club that was in the post-season for only the second time in team history.

Just to be sure their imprint on the Penguins would be indelible, the Jackets mounted a comeback in the final 10 minutes, getting a shorthanded goal from Fedor Tyutin, a power-play goal from Artem Anisimov and an even-strength score from Nick Foligno. But after Foligno’s goal at 15:13, the Jackets couldn’t get one more on Marc-Andre Fleury.

“I felt after the third goal, anything could happen, the way the game was going,” Jackets coach Todd Richards said.

“I was expecting to win this game. I did not have a lot of words for our guys after because I was not expecting to go in there after a loss. I was expecting to be ready to get on a plane and go back to Pittsburgh for Game 7.”

Said Fleury, who had been criticized at times in the series: “Teams that make the playoffs, there is a reason why, and this team came hard at us for six games. They showed us how we have to play to win games and I think we did in the last two games, played good and hard, found a way.”

Perhaps it was because of the Jackets’ overall inexperience — but probably more that the Penguins had had enough of the questions surrounding their club — but the Pittsburgh side was dominant out of the gate, not unlike the manner in which it had finished Game 5.

The Jackets had said they had little choice but to increase their desperation level in a do-or-die game, but never got the chance. The Penguins were strong from the opening faceoff, as Malkin twice beat Sergei Bobrovsky in the first period. Brandon Sutter scored early in the second on a breakaway, and Malkin completed the hat trick at 15:22 of the same period.

Malkin again played most of the game with Sidney Crosby, whose own playoff goal-less slump has reached 11 games going back to last spring. But Crosby had another assist, giving him six in the series.

The Penguins’ win was costly, as Sutter and Joe Vitale, who hurt his knee, departed with injuries. Coach Dan Bylsma wouldn’t give updates after the game.

Crosby and his teammates won’t know who they will meet next for a bit yet. But already the wheels were turning.

“You take a day and start to re-focus and get ready for whoever it is,” Crosby said. “This has been a lot of learning through this whole process, even through these six games. We found our game a bit more the last couple of games, just knowing how we need to play. Hopefully, we build off it.”

SILVER LINING ON DARK DAY

COLUMBUS — If their playoff failure evolves into a building block next season, the Columbus Blue Jackets will be happy with that development.

But that possibility was no consolation late on Monday night in the minutes after a season-ending 4-3 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

“I’m sure it will be,” centre Brandon Dubinsky said. “But it’s tough to have that type of feeling right now because we believed in here we could beat that team and I still believe we can beat that team. It’s an empty feeling, it’s frustrating. This one hurts.”

Certainly, the Jackets’ future should have sunny days. The youngest club in the NHL got some valuable experience and players such as Ryan Johansen, Boone Jenner and Ryan Murray should form a solid foundation for several years.

“It was nice seeing our young guys really take a lot of steps this year,” coach Todd Richards said. “Your youth a lot of times is going to drive it.”


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