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Game Preview: Jackets, Penguins meet in Columbus

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

It has been an up-and-down season for the Pittsburgh Penguins so far, but thanks to their goaltender, there have been more of the former than the latter.

Marc-Andre Fleury has been the story of the season to this point in Pittsburgh, playing some of his best hockey in years and making up for some defensive shortcomings and breakdowns along the way. If not for the goaltender, this might be a different story for the Penguins, who are firmly in the postseason conversation with one-fourth of the season out of the way.

Their most recent outing was an impressive one: a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Louis Blues, one of the Western Conference’s more physical and aggressive teams. The two teams traded four goals until midway through the third period, when a Ben Lovejoy shot from the point beat Jake Allen and gave the Penguins a 3-2 lead.

Pittsburgh looked to be in good stead late in regulation, but the Blues got a small opening and took full advantage. Alex Pietrangelo sneaked down from his right point position and beat Fleury short-side to pull St. Louis even at 3-3 with under six minutes to play.

At the time, it was a deflating goal for the Penguins to give up considering how well they’d played, but they regrouped and got the job done in overtime.

Evgeni Malkin scored the game-winner, out-waiting Allen on a patient deke to the backhand, giving Pittsburgh the extra point and sending them into the one-day Thanksgiving break on a positive note. 

When the puck drops on Friday night at Nationwide Arena, it will have been exactly two weeks to the day that these two teams last met.

If you’ll recall, the Blue Jackets got some bad news only an hour before the game on Nov. 13 when Brandon Dubinsky’s infected elbow prevented him from playing. As a result, captain Nick Foligno made the shift to center and coach John Tortorella shuffled his lineup, putting Dalton Prout at forward and getting Ryan Murray (who was scheduled to be a healthy scratch) back in the lineup at the last minute.

Scott Hartnell and Brandon Saad scored goals for Columbus, which took a 2-0 lead deep into the third period before the Penguins made a late push.

Patric Hornqvist re-directed a long wrist shot from Kris Letang past Sergei Bobrovsky with under a minute left in regulation, pulling the Penguins within 2-1 and setting up for a last gasp effort that nearly turned disastrous for the Blue Jackets. Hornqvist had a second goal disallowed due to a distinct kicking motion with 14 seconds left, and the Blue Jackets salted the final seconds away to get two big points.

Dupuis has certainly had his share of injury and health-related problems over the past year, but the good news is he’s back in the Penguins lineup and has been productive of late.

On Wednesday night against St. Louis, Dupuis made a nice play to disrupt Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, pressure him into a turnover, and free the puck up in the high slot where line mate Sidney Crosby was waiting.

The 36-year-old Dupuis is in his ninth season with the Penguins, and was part of a deal with the Atlanta Thrashers in 2008 that also brought Marian Hossa to Pittsburgh. Dupuis has two goals and four points in 13 games so far this season, but now has points in two of his last three games.

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