Throughout the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series, led 3-2 by Pittsburgh, each team has responded to adversity. A trend has formed that involves one team taking an early lead before losing one game, then falling behind early before coming from behind to win the next.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said the Penguins joked following their 3-1 win in Game 5 on Saturday that they would consider handing Columbus a 1-0 lead to start Game 6 at Nationwide Arena (7 p.m. ET; CBC, RDS2, ROOT, FS-O).
"I think last night was a little bit different, in terms of it wasn't a 2-1 or 3-1 lead [for Columbus] that we saw in each of the first four games for opposite teams," Bylsma said. "I think you have seen the fight back and the resiliency from both teams in all five of the situations, and I thought I just saw that from our team [Saturday] night.
"It was just a 1-0 lead that they got, but they did keep it into the second period and we had to keep playing, keep fighting and keep getting back."
Pittsburgh snapped one streak Saturday. One of the teams held a 3-1 lead in each of the first four games and on each occasion, that team lost 4-3. The Penguins won Game 5, 3-1, and Bylsma said they were proud they sustained that lead, even if it lasted just the final 1:01.
The series returns to Columbus, where Pittsburgh came back to win Game 3, but surrendered a three-goal lead to lose Game 4. The Penguins expect a hostile crowd, but said they are prepared to end the series Monday.
"It's been an up-and-down series for us," forward James Neal said. "We've played well at times and then it hasn't been there at times. We could've come back in the series and it be 3-1 and us looking at a game [Saturday] night to clinch it, but we just didn't play good enough for that to happen. We're going to go into a loud building in Columbus and have a chance to close out this series.
"It's going to be the toughest game. It always is, the fourth one, but it's exciting. It's the best time of the year and we're having fun with it."
Neal, who normally plays right wing alongside forward Evgeni Malkin, also said Malkin needs to be more selfish. He said Pittsburgh's forwards have suggested Malkin, who has not scored a goal this postseason, shoot the puck more and thinks some evidence of that was seen Saturday, with Malkin playing alongside forwards Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz.
But the Penguins' defense was the primary force behind their Game 5 win. The Blue Jackets complimented Pittsburgh's forecheck, while criticizing their own, after the game.
Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen said they will need to carry that play through a full 60 minutes in order to avoid a Game 7, which could be difficult if defenseman Brooks Orpik, who missed Game 5 with an undisclosed injury, remains sidelined.
Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo played in his first playoff game in place of Orpik on Saturday.
"I think for the duration of the game, that was our most complete game as a defensive unit," Niskanen said. "A lot of that was a team game as well. We did our job and it allowed our forwards to play their game better … Brooks being out, he's our leader on the back end, for sure. It hurts. He logs a lot of minutes, he has the toughest assignment of checking the other team's first line every night.
"That's tough to replace, but I think we've proven this year that we're capable of having other guys step in and still be an effective team."