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Pens ride rollercoaster to series victory

by Sam Kasan @PensInsideScoop / Pittsburgh Penguins

The student has bested the master. 

Mike Sullivan got the best of his former mentor John Tortorella as the Penguins defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets, 4-1, in the First Round series matchup and will advance to the Second Round.

The two close friends and Stanley Cup-champion head coaches went head-to-head for the first time ever when the Pens drew the Jackets in the opening round of the postseason. And after five intense games it was Sullivan's Pens that will continue to play following their 5-2 Game 5 victory at PPG Paints Arena on Thursday night.

"We just played one of the top teams in the league in the first round," Sullivan said. "Tonight was a microcosm of the series. There were momentum swings both ways. It was an emotional rollercoaster.

"When I look back on the five games that were played, that's my observation."

"Give them credit. That's a good hockey club, a well coached team," Tortorella said. "Their top players hurt us. They capitalized. That was the big difference. We had a number of opportunities. We couldn't. They did. They put the puck in the net."

The Pens, for the fifth straight game, started the game on their heels while Columbus played the aggressor, outshooting Pittsburgh 8-1 in the early minutes. Despite the early onslaught, Pittsburgh built what appeared to be a solid 3-0 lead on the scoreboard, thanks to a pair of tallies from Bryan Rust.

But the Blue Jackets refused to die. A pair of goals halfway through the second period cut the Pens' lead to 3-2 and things got really interesting. If not for some great goaltending by Marc-Andre Fleury in the waning moments of the middle frame the outcome may have been different.

The turning point came as Columbus appeared to tie the game at 3-3 when Oliver Bjorkstrand put the puck in the Pittsburgh net. However, on the play Alexander Wennberg interfered with Fleury. Not only was the goal waved off, but Wennberg was sent to the box.

That's when The Pens took control. It was Pens captain Sidney Crosby who signed Columbus' death certificate with a goal on the ensuing power play to make it 4-2. Scott Wilson would add a little insurance less than a minute later. This time there would be no more comebacks.

"We got timely goals at key times and timely saves at key times," Sullivan said. "That's what helps you overcome some of the emotion involved with momentum swings."

It wasn't the Pens' best game. They're certainly capable of playing better, particularly on their defensive zone breakouts. There are areas of their game that they'll need to clean up heading into the Second Round, and it looks like they'll have a few days until the next round begins.

"I think there are lots of things we can improve on and get better," Sullivan said. "I believe that our best hockey is ahead of us."

But the only thing that matters now is the number four. As in four wins. That's what it takes to advance.

It wasn't pretty, but Pittsburgh got the job done.

"It's never perfect out there by any stretch, but we love their compete level," Sullivan said. "We love their resilience. We love their ability to respond to the adversity that we face throughout the course of a season, game or series."

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