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Pens' resolve fuels to comeback

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins knew what to expect heading into Game 3 of their First Round series against Columbus at Nationwide Arena on Sunday. 

They read the narrative. Playing in front of a raucous home crowd and with a propensity to feed off of that energy, the Blue Jackets were going to start the game with an intense attack.

The script played out as Cam Atkinson jumped on a Brandon Dubinsky rebound in the slot to give the Jackets a 1-0 lead just 11 seconds into the game. That's right, 11 seconds.

The Blue Jackets rode that early momentum and took advantage of Pittsburgh miscues to streak out to a 3-1 lead just 6:10 into the contest.

But hockey is a 60-minute game, or 73 minutes in this case. The Blue Jackets landed the early punches, but never delivered the knockout blow.

"We talked about the first 10 minutes before the game, but the first shift they scored," center Evgeni Malkin said. "We know if you score one goal you can change the momentum. After the first period we talked in the locker room."

The Pens responded by taking over the game with a two-goal second period, and a 19-8 shot advantage, to turn that 3-1 deficit into a 5-4 overtime victory to take a 3-0 series lead and push Columbus to the edge of extinction.

"It's tough when 10 seconds into the game you give up a goal," head coach Mike Sullivan said. "But what I love about our group is that we just keep playing. We didn't let it affect us."

Since Sullivan became head coach of the Penguins he has instilled in this group a resolve and steely temperament. What once was one of the team's biggest weaknesses, has become its biggest strength.

"The resilience and resolve that this group shows is part of the fabric of our identity," Sullivan said. "It has to be in order to have success in this league and win at this time of year."

Rookie sensation Jake Guentzel recorded his first career playoff hat trick, which included the game-winner in overtime. Malkin posted a three-point night (1G-2A). 

But no player epitomized the Pens' resolve and mental toughness than their goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. After surrendering three goals on the Jackets' first six shots, Fleury stopped 30 of 31 shots the rest of the way.

Fleury refocused after allowing that third goal of the game.

"Take a deep breath, say a couple bad words and then relax," Fleury said. "I was confident. We've (come back) a bunch of times this season. We have guys that can put the puck in the net. I just thought if I could stop the next one, keep the guys in the game, we played awesome. One of our best games."

Fleury's two biggest saves were both on Dubinsky. With Columbus leading 3-1 with 10:46 remaining in the first period, a Pittsburgh defensive zone turnover ended with Dubinsky collecting the puck in the slot. Fleury slid over to stop him to keep the score 3-1. If Dubinsky scores on that play, it's probably lights out for the Pens.

"(Fleury) was huge," captain Sidney Crosby said. "They came at us hard. That save in overtime where it looked like it was a sure goal. He was great for us again tonight."

The save in overtime came off of a rebound opportunity. Fleury came sliding across the ice to get his head - or helmet - on Dubinsky's shot. Dubinsky had the game, maybe even Columbus' season on his stick, but Fleury pillaged his chance.

"I knew there was a lot of (net) and I tried to get over as quickly as possible," Fleury said.

The biggest goal of the game came courtesy of Bryan Rust. When the Pens sophomore winger re-directed a shot into the goal to make it a 3-2 game the Pittsburgh rally was on.

"Most important was the second goal. 3-2 is close," Malkin said. "We have a lot of time. We started playing right in the offensive zone. We played our game.

"We know we can beat any team."

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