COLUMBUS, Ohio – Evgeni Malkin had a hat trick and the Pittsburgh Penguins almost blew a four-goal lead before beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 on Monday night to clinch their first-round playoff series in six games.
The Blue Jackets, closer to making tee times than thinking about a Game 7, scored three times in a 4:52 span in the third period to turn up the pressure on the Penguins.
Pittsburgh awaits the winner of the New York-Philadelphia series, with the Rangers leading 3-2 going into Tuesday night’s Game 6.
Brandon Sutter also scored and Matt Niskanen had two assists as the Penguins became the first team in the series to score first and win – but barely. Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves.
Fedor Tyutin, Artem Anisimov and Nick Foligno scored late to thrill a crowd of 19,189 who stood and roared for the final 4 minutes.
The Penguins were hard pressed to just fight off the upstart Blue Jackets after goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who also had 24 saves, was pulled for an extra attacker with under 2 minutes left.
Columbus’ Matt Calvert was wide with a potential tying shot with 3:30 left.
It was Malkin’s 10th career three-goal game. He hadn’t scored in the first 332:52 of the series, then scored three in a span of 26:11.
The Blue Jackets, one of the NHL’s youngest teams, found consolation in earning the first two playoff victories in the franchise’s 13 seasons.
Malkin, who ended a nine-game playoff goal drought, made up for lost time by scoring twice in a 4:02 span of the opening period.
Chris Kunitz won a puck battle along the short boards and then slid a pass from the left corner to Malkin, who was alone at the edge of the right circle. He settled the puck and then beat Bobrovsky high on the stick side at the 9:11 mark.
Foligno, who had the Game 4 overtime winner the previous time the teams played in Columbus, went sent to the penalty box for a roughing penalty before Malkin scored again.
Columbus’ Derek MacKenzie appeared to have cleared the puck, but Niskanen got a stick on it to keep it in the offensive zone. The puck ended up going to Malkin, who unleashed a hard wrister from the high slot with Kunitz blocking Bobrovsky’s view.
Fleury didn’t get much work in the opening 20 minutes, but made a big save when he stymied MacKenzie, who had intercepted a Craig Adams pass in the Penguins’ end and squeezed off a shot from close range.
A Blue Jackets power play had just ended when defenseman James Wisniewski mishandled the puck at the blue line and Sutter grabbed it. He was all alone streaking down the left wing, faked the forehand and then slipped a backhand into the net.
Malkin scored his third goal at the 15:22 mark of the second period, benefiting from a 2-on-1 break after taking a pass along the left wall from Jussi Jokinen. The big Russian glanced at James Neal to his right while cruising past the lone Blue Jacket back, defenseman Jack Johnson, then ripped the shot past Bobrovsky to make it 4-0.
The fans were up in arms after Tanner Glass leveled Wisniewski on a hit in the corner in the second period and was called for boarding.
Early in the third, Columbus’ Blake Comeau got the best of Beau Bennett on a check and the Pens’ Joe Vitale then initiated knee-to-knee contact with Comeau. Vitale was called for interference, but was in pain on the ice and did not return.
Tyutin’s shot from the right dot ended Fleury’s shutout streak at 97:26 – since the Blue Jackets took a 1-0 lead in the first period of Game 5.
But then Anisimov scored from the left point with 6:06 remaining to make it 4-2 and Foligno redirected a Tyutin shot to cut the lead to a goal with 4:47 left.
The Penguins were pushed to the limit to hold on the rest of the way.
Notes: The Penguins improved to 8-4 in Game 6s when up 3-2 in the playoffs. … Columbus was without veteran forward (and Pittsburgh native) R.J. Umberger (shoulder). Jared Boll took his place. … For the second game in a row, the Penguins didn’t have D Brooks Orpik, sidelined with an undisclosed injury. … Sutter was limping as he went to the dressing room with 6 minutes left in the second period. He did not return.