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Round 1 | Penguins vs Blue Jackets

playoffs

5 Reasons: Why Penguins advanced

Play of Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin helped Pittsburgh defeat Blue Jackets, move to second round

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't as straightforward as the Pittsburgh Penguins would have liked, but they advanced past the Columbus Blue Jackets and into the Eastern Conference Second Round.

The Penguins won the best-of-7 series 4-1, although they struggled defensively throughout the five games. Fortunately for the Penguins, Marc-Andre Fleury was prepared to retake his spot as their No. 1 goalie, at least for one series.

Here are 5 reasons the Penguins advanced to the second round:

 

1. MARC-ANDRE FLEURY STEPS UP

The Penguins expected goalie Matt Murray to start Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round until he sustained a lower-body injury during warmups. Fleury stepped in and allowed one goal in a 3-1 win. Two days later, he again allowed one goal, this time in a 4-1 victory.

In five starts Fleury had a .933 save percentage. In three home starts that percentage jumped to .967.

Fleury was at his best without much preparation. If Murray can't return for the start of the second round, Fleury will counted on again.

"I'm just trying to go one game at a time," Fleury said. "I think once you realize you never know what's coming for you, you try to enjoy every moment you have."

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm5: Fleury stops 49 to help Pens advance

 

2. LATE SURGES AFTER SLOW STARTS

Pittsburgh had a lackluster start in four of the five games against Columbus.

The Penguins were able to respond to three of those slow starts by surviving the first period and taking command after that. They outscored the Blue Jackets 18-8 after the first period during the series.

That likely won't be a recipe for success moving forward during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and slow starts are something the Penguins will have to address as they prepare for the second round. Fighting through adversity worked against the Blue Jackets, though, and was good enough to win four of five games.

"There were momentum swings both ways," coach Mike Sullivan said. "It felt like it was an emotional roller coaster."

 

3.EVGENI MALKIN'S RETURN

In Game 1, Malkin returned from an upper-body injury that had him sidelined for the final 13 games of the regular season and had two assists. He scored a goal in Game 2 and had a goal and two assists in Game 3. He had five assists in the final two games.

Malkin led the Penguins with 11 points (two goals, nine assists) in five games. His presence gave them an additional scoring threat it lacked late in the regular season, one that it will need as the playoffs progress.

Video: PIT@CBJ, Gm3: Malkin scores with help from Rust

 

4. JAKE GUENTZEL'S COMING OUT PARTY

At the end of the regular season, Guentzel was known only as the rookie left wing on Sidney Crosby's line. After scoring five goals in his first four playoff games, he has to be recognized as one of the Penguins' more dangerous offensive weapons.

Guentzel, 22, brings the kind of speed to Crosby's line that right wing Conor Sheary displayed during the 2016 playoffs. Sheary had two assists in five games, but Guentzel picked up the slack and provided the kind of offensive spark the Penguins seek from Crosby's young linemates.

 

5. POWER PLAY PRODUCES

The Penguins scored at least one power-play goal in four of the five games. They had two in Game 5; the second one, by Crosby at 5:31 of the third period, gave them a 4-2 lead.

Pittsburgh's power play converted 23.1 percent of its chances during the regular season, tied for third in the NHL with the Washington Capitals. In the first round, Pittsburgh was were 5-for-15 (33.3 percent).

"It's important to any series, special teams," Crosby said. "To gain some confidence is good."

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