PENGUINS 4 | BLUE JACKETS 3*
*Pittsburgh wins the series, 4-2
Perhaps it was only fitting that the final score was 4-3 tonight at Nationwide Arena. The only thing missing was a better result for the home team, which nearly pulled off an improbable comeback in a do-or-die Game 6 in Columbus.
For the better part of the game, the Pittsburgh Penguins brought the team that closed out Game 5 in fine fashion, out-shooting and out-possessing the Blue Jackets in a frustrating 3-1 loss at CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins, who started the game like a team ready to close the deal tonight, raced out to a 4-0 lead through two periods on the strength of a hat trick from the previously-goalless Evgeni Malkin.
And as has been a theme in the series, the Penguins struck quickly for two goals in four minutes to turn a scoreless tie into a 2-0 lead heading to the first intermission. The Blue Jackets only had seven shots against Marc-Andre Fleury in the first period and they couldn't sustain any pressure, and their two-goal deficit grew deeper in the second period; Brandon Sutter scored on a breakaway just after a Pittsburgh penalty expired to make it 3-0 just 34 seconds into the frame.
After Malkin completed his hat trick late in the second period, what should have (and could have) been a quiet finish turned into a white-knuckling roller coaster finish - because you just knew this Blue Jackets team would not go quietly into the night, borrowing a line from Bill Pullman in "Independence Day."
It took less than five minutes for Columbus to score three goals - Fedor Tyutin, Artem Anisimov and then Nick Foligno - bringing Nationwide Arena to a deafening volume and forcing the Penguins into a timeout. With a 4-3 game at hand and plenty of time on the clock, the Blue Jackets put themselves in position for a monumental rally.
The Penguins held on to win despite a major push from the Blue Jackets, closing out the series in six games - but there is no denying that players, coaches and fans feel this is only the beginning of something special.
"I think (Columbus) is just as great of a sports town or hockey town as there could be in America," Jack Johnson said. "It has just been a little under the radar the past few years. We're going to win a perennial winner here that this town can be proud of and I think we can have that building rocking like that every night."
Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards, who wasn't yet prepared to reflect on the season and his team's growth with emotions of the game still raw, said he truly felt that the rally would come complete.
Ryan Johansen agreed.
"Our guys played with a lot of pride there in the last period and, like I said, we just wanted to leave it all out on the ice and I think we did that in the third period," Johansen said. "You never know what can happen. In a couple of cases before, there have been teams that come back from 4-0 deficits. We said in here that we're going to leave it all out on the ice and we'll see what happens. For the first eight minutes, we weren't creating much, but found a way to get one in there and we just kept coming and coming. We just fell a little short for one more."
Malkin's third goal - a tally that made it 4-0 in favor of Pittsburgh - was obviously the difference in the game and the game-winning tally, but it was a goal that (at least temporarily) sucked the wind out of the building.
1. EVGENI MALKIN (PIT)
Great players are going to get their chances, and after a relatively quiet series, Malkin rose to the occasion tonight in Game 6 with an excellent performance.
2. FEDOR TYUTIN (CBJ)
His shorthanded goal in the third period started the Jackets' surge, and a few minutes later, a slap-pass to Foligno resulted in the third Columbus goal that nearly blew the roof off the joint.
3. MATT NISKANEN (PIT)
The Penguin blue liner was a thorn in the Jackets' side all series long, and he made two nice plays to set up goals for his team tonight.