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Penguins' top line dominates Game 2

Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, Conor Sheary combine for six points against Blue Jackets after failing to score in opener

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Lost in the analysis and dissection of Game 1 at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday was the fact that the Pittsburgh Penguins won despite a rare non-descript, relatively ho-hum game from Sidney Crosby and linemates Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary.

Nobody really thought that was going to happen two games in a row to the Penguins' best line, did they?

It didn't.

 

[RELATED: Complete Penguins vs. Blue Jackets series coverage]

 

Crosby, Guentzel and Sheary were dynamic again in Game 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday and a huge reason why the Penguins won 4-1 to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round. Game 3 is Sunday in Columbus (6 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN360, TVA Sports 2, FS-O, ROOT).

Crosby had three points on a goal and two assists. Guentzel had a goal and an assist. Sheary had an assist off a strong forecheck that allowed him to take the puck away from Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and set up the play that led to Crosby's goal at 8:31 of the first period.

The line that had 44 points in 11 games after it was put together on a full-time basis on March 11 had its first six points and 10 shots on goal in its second Stanley Cup Playoff game together after generating zero points and four shots on goal in Game 1.

"They had a lot more offensive zone time in this game and that allows them to play to their strengths," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "That was probably the biggest difference in the first two games. Certainly they had a couple of quality chances in the first game, they just didn't convert. Tonight they had a lot. I thought they were a threat on most shifts."

Starting with the first shift of the game.

Columbus won the opening faceoff but turned the puck over. Guentzel got the puck, flipped it back to Crosby and went to the net. Crosby nearly found him there for a redirection goal 10 seconds in.

"It gets you into the game early and you feel good about it," Crosby said of getting a chance that early. "I've been in games where it doesn't always work out that way but it's nice when it does. The next shift we ended up getting a pretty good chance too, so when you can string a couple together you feel good."

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm2: Guentzel buries Crosby's nice feed

Less than three minutes later the Blue Jackets turned it over again and Guentzel brought the puck in the zone. He found Crosby, who found defenseman Ron Hainsey, who found Guentzel alone in the slot for a one-timer that missed only because of defenseman Scott Harrington's diving poke check.

"I thought we all were skating and sometimes it ends up working out that you get chances when that happens," Crosby said. "I would say that's a good example of you feel good after you get a couple good shifts at the start."

They made it count on their fourth shift.

Sheary burrowed his way in on the forecheck to steal the puck from Bobrovsky, who played it way too slowly behind his net. He moved the puck in front to Guentzel, who played it right skate to stick to Crosby, a play with a remarkably high degree of difficulty, the Penguins captain said.

Crosby deposited it into the back of the net, the Penguins' first goal on their first shot.

Video: CBJ@PIT, Gm2: Crosby taps in 50th career playoff goal

"It was a good play, a lot of hustle and some good execution there," Crosby said.

There was more.

The linemates nearly converted at 3:40 of the second period after goalie Marc-Andre Fleury's stretch pass to Guentzel resulted in a rush chance for Crosby that was thwarted by a strong close out by Columbus defenseman David Savard.

Then, 51 seconds after Brandon Saad tied the game at 7:00 of the second period, Columbus coughed the puck up in the offensive zone, Ian Cole put a soft pass off the wall to Crosby, starting a 2-on-1 that Guentzel finished to give Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead.

"If you execute, you make that little pass, that 10-foot pass, or you're able to beat that guy, then there is a chance to be had," Crosby said. "I thought we did a better job doing that and then we created some turnovers too. Sometimes if the game isn't dictating a lot you have to create your own chances. I thought we did a better job of that.

Crosby also noted another big difference was how Guentzel and Sheary handled plays along the wall.

The Blue Jackets are a deep-pinching team and in Game 1 they were able to attack Guentzel and Sheary before they could make a play off the wall. It limited their rush chances with Crosby and their time in the offensive zone.

They adjusted in Game 2, moved the puck quicker off the wall, and were able to generate more of everything they wanted.

"This time of year there isn't a lot of time and space," Crosby said, "but tonight we were able to get a good number of chances, so it was good to see some of those go in."

They went in like they did in the last month of the regular season. It frankly was a matter of time until they did in the playoffs too.

"They're so elusive they're hard to defend," Sullivan said. "When they're in that offensive zone they're as dangerous a line as there is in the game right now for me."

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