Print those playoff tickets.
The Penguins defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets, 2-1, Friday night at Nationwide Arena to officially clinch a playoff berth.
And they did so with a little help from an old friend.
Forward Beau Bennett played his first game with the club since Nov. 22 when he suffered a hand/wrist injury.
Bennett, 22, scored the Penguins’ second goal of the game, and his second of the season, with a nice snap shot off a two-on-one rush. Bennett carried the puck down the ice with Jussi Jokinen in tow. Bennett opted to shoot and beat goaltender Curtis McElhinney blocker side.
The tally ended up being the game-winner.
“I was thinking pass from red line to the to of the circles, but the guy was playing ‘Juicy’ over there,” Bennett said. “He gave me a little bit of space. I saw a little room blocker and luckily it went in.”
Bennett, who notched an assist in a three-game conditioning stint with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL, logged 14:51 minutes of ice while registering three shots and four hits.
Bennett’s head coach was impressed by his game.
“That was a real strong game from Beau, real authoritative,” head coach Dan Bylsma said. “I thought one of his better games I’ve seen him play. And this being his first game back.”
Bennett’s play aside, he was just happy to be back on the ice.
“It feels good. It’s great to come back in a game like this,” Bennett said. “It’s good to be out there with the guys again and get a win and share that feeling.”
While Bennett’s return was a major factor in the Penguins’ victory, the biggest factor was the play of their goaltender – Marc-Andre Fleury.
Fleury was spectacular in goal, making 35 saves, 14 in the third period, and bailing out the Pens several times throughout the game.
“I felt pretty good,” Fleury said. “It’s been a while since I won. It was getting frustrating. I just stuck to my game and made the stops. I’m just happy we got the win.”
Fleury started the game strong with a quick glove save on Cam Atkinson one minute after the opening puck drop. And his play only improved from there.
“It’s a good feeling and gets you (into the game),” Fleury said.
Fleury had to make several key saves in the final minutes of the game as Columbus attacked the net with their playoff hopes on the line.
“I thought he was outstanding all game long,” Bylsma said. “In tough spots he made some big saves, on deflections, on their power plays. Two real good deflections and he had to come up big on those saves.
“I don’t know if (the media) named him first start, but he probably was.”
The NHL’s No. 2 ranked power play continues to struggle in the goal-scoring department. The Penguins went 0 for 4 on the man-advantage 24 hours after going 0 for 7 against the Los Angeles Kings Thursday night in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins have scored one power-play goal in their past 17 tries and five goals in the past 44 attempts.
Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was a healthy scratch against Columbus. It was the second time this season that Maatta has been a healthy scratch.
The 19-year-old rookie defenseman has played a lot of games (72 in the NHL and six in the Olympics) this season. And during all that action he’s logged some big minutes – often over 20-minutes per game.
The amount of games, the frequency of games and the level of competition is something Maatta hasn’t experienced yet in his career. A game off to rest and recharge will benefit him greatly. The Penguins will need him to fill a big role for the team in the stretch run and the playoffs.
Author: Sam Kasan