COLUMBUS -- Somehow, this crazy Eastern Conference First Round series had to end this way, with the Columbus Blue Jackets trying to rally for an improbable tie to send a third game to overtime.
But it wasn't to be and the Pittsburgh Penguins used three goals by Evgeni Malkin and another by Brandon Sutter for a four-goal lead, then held on to beat the Blue Jackets 4-3 to win Game 6 at Nationwide Arena on Monday night.
Pittsburgh took the best-of-7 series 4-2 by winning back-to-back two games, including 3-1 in Game 5 at home on Saturday. The Penguins will face either the New York Rangers or Philadelphia Flyers in the second round. New York leads Philadelphia 3-2 in their first-round series.
Game 5 was the only one in the series that did not end 4-3. In the first four games, the loser held a 3-1 lead, or in the case of the Penguins in Game 4, a 3-0 advantage as well.
"We've got a rivalry born here between the Jackets and Penguins," Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. "They gave us everything we could handle. It was a great series for them. They were an extremely tough first-round opponent."
Trailing 4-0, Columbus got goals from Fedor Tyutin, Artem Anisimov and Nick Foligno 4:52 apart, beginning with 9:39 left in the third period and had the puck in the Penguins' end with an extra attacker on the ice when the game ended.
"We said in here we're going to leave it all on the ice and see what happens," Columbus center Ryan Johansen said. "Our guys played with a lot of pride in the third period."
For 50 minutes, Malkin was the story by his breaking a nine-game postseason goalless streak with two goals in the first period and another at 15:22 of the second for 4-0 advantage.
"When you can't score you need to just work and work every day through practice and the puck will [go] in," Malkin said. "Thanks to my linemates, they did a great job passing to me. I score the goals and [have] more confidence."
Crosby did not score in the series; Kunitz had two goals.
Sutter made it 3-0 with his third goal of the Stanley Cup Playoffs 34 seconds into the second period. The Penguins had finished their first penalty kill when Columbus defenseman James Wisniewski gave the puck away to him at the Blue Jackets' blue line and it was a free skate from there. Sutter went to the backhand over goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (24 saves).
Sutter was forced to leave the game with less than minutes left in the second with an undisclosed injury.
Malkin completed his second career postseason hat trick off an odd-man rush with a shot from the left circle past Bobrovsky, a Russian teammate at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. Malkin has 39 goals in 89 career postseason games.
"It was another hat trick by Malkin when we needed it," Bylsma said.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Malkin became the third player in franchise history to record multiple hat tricks in the playoffs, joining Mario Lemieux (3) and Crosby (2). Malkin previously recorded a hat trick on May 21, 2009, against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Final.
"More importantly, we win the game and the series is done. It was a tough series," he said. "I hope the second round I score the first game."
The Penguins became the first team in the series to score first and win, but it wasn't easy even though Marc-Andre Fleury appeared to be cruising to his seventh career playoff shutout before the Blue Jackets erupted, sending the 19,189 fans on to their feet for the remainder of the game.
Tyutin scored his first of the playoffs and the Blue Jackets' third shorthanded goal of the series from the right dot to end a 97:26 goalless streak by Fleury, who had 24 saves.
The Blue Jackets cut the deficit to 4-2 on an Anisimov power-play goal with Jack Johnson picking up his second assist. Tyutin and Anisimov were also on the Russian Olympic team in February.
Foligno, who scored the overtime winner in Game 4, redirected a Tyutin shot past Fleury with 4:47 to play to send up the frantic finish.
"You could feel the momentum changing," Kunitz said. "The fans got into it goal after goal. The last three or four minutes we did a good job matching their intensity."
With less than a minute to go, the Blue Jackets rimmed the puck behind the Pittsburgh net, just like Game 4 when Fleury wandered out and the puck bounced over his stick.
Brandon Dubinsky scored goal with 24 seconds left in regulation that game, but Fleury learned his lesson and stayed in the crease this time and allowed his teammates to successfully defend the play in front of him.
Time ran out on the Blue Jackets' second postseason appearance.
"I felt like with 4 ½ minutes left, after we got the third goal, that anything could happen. I really did," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "The way the game was going, you could feel the energy. Our bench had life. They'd done it two games ago. The last time in this building it happened."
|Evgeni Malkin (1) ASST: Chris Kunitz (3)|
1 - 0 PIT
|PPG - Evgeni Malkin (2) ASST: Sidney Crosby (6), Matt Niskanen (5)|
2 - 0 PIT
|Brandon Sutter (3) ASST: NONE|
3 - 0 PIT
|Evgeni Malkin (3) ASST: Jussi Jokinen (2), Matt Niskanen (6)|
4 - 0 PIT
|SHG - Fedor Tyutin (1) ASST: Matt Calvert (2), Jack Johnson (3)|
4 - 1 PIT
|PPG - Artem Anisimov (1) ASST: Jack Johnson (4), Cam Atkinson (2)|
4 - 2 PIT
|Nick Foligno (2) ASST: Fedor Tyutin (1)|
4 - 3 PIT
|Nick Foligno Roughing against Jussi Jokinen|
|Lee Stempniak Hooking against Brandon Dubinsky|
|Tanner Glass Boarding against James Wisniewski|
|Sidney Crosby Slashing against Artem Anisimov|
|Ryan Johansen Interference against Lee Stempniak|
|Joe Vitale Interference against Blake Comeau|
|Brandon Dubinsky Tripping against Chris Kunitz|
|James Wisniewski Roughing against Beau Bennett|
|Paul Martin Tripping against Brandon Dubinsky|