COLUMBUS -- Truth be told, it was the beginning of Game 6 that proved to be the demise of the Columbus Blue Jackets in a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at Nationwide Arena on Wednesday night that ended their season.
Needing to tie the Eastern Conference First Round best-of-seven series at 3-3, the Blue Jackets promised a better effort than Game 5 on Saturday when they lost 3-1 at Pittsburgh and were outshot 51-24.
Playing before another energized crowd in Columbus, the Blue Jackets did not deliver in the opening 20 minutes. Evgeni Malkin scored twice and the Penguins grabbed a 2-0 lead that would rise to 4-0 on a goal by Brandon Sutter and another by Malkin.
"Their first period was good," Columbus left wing Nick Foligno said. "They came at us hard and capitalized on some opportunities and put us on our heels. We didn't answer correctly until the third period."
"We didn't want to leave on a bad note," Foligno said.
The Blue Jackets' hallmark all season was bouncing back from adversity and they faced a huge one in trying to come back from a four-goal deficit.
"It's disappointing right now," Columbus center Brandon Dubinsky said. "I'm happy with the third period and we stuck with it and could come back, but spotting a 4-0 lead to a team like that is insurmountable, I guess."
The Blue Jackets were unable to keep up.
"They came at us with a lot of speed the first 40 minutes and gave us trouble," Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen said.
The Penguins did whatever they wanted with the puck in the first period and held a 17-6 shot advantage.
"Their forecheck was good again," Dubinsky said. "They were hard on it again. They generate a lot of speed through the neutral zone. They cycle the puck really well and give themselves time and space."
It was too much for the Blue Jackets too handle for much of the game. They talked before the start of the third period about finishing strong.
"The guys stuck with it," Columbus coach Todd Richards said. "We talked about a sense of pride, everything they did this year to earn the fans trust; finish the right way. The fans were appreciative after that."
Dubinsky sensed his teammates got the message.
"We're a proud group in here and we don't want to be embarrassed on our home ice if it's our last game of the season," he said. "We didn't have any quit."
The Blue Jackets battled to the bitter end and had goalie Sergei Bobrovsky pulled for an extra attacker and the puck deep in the Penguins zone when the game ended.
Five of the six games ended 4-3 and Game 5 included an empty-net goal.
"It shows the competitiveness of Columbus, their battle in not giving up or thinking they're outmatched," Kunitz said.
The Blue Jackets were saluted off the ice by their fans after the game, but the sting will linger into the summer.
"Although there are positives to take out of every game, this one hurts," Dubinsky said. "It hurts to see our season end this way and it hurts the fact the first 40 minutes we didn't have our best game, especially when we needed to be desperate and our backs were against the wall."
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