PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma wanted to send a message to his team, putting Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin exclusively on the same line.
Consider it received.
Attacking on offense early and often, the Penguins topped the Columbus Blue Jackets 3-1 on Saturday night as Jussi Jokinen scored the go-ahead goal in the third period to help give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference playoff series.
Pittsburgh peppered Sergei Bobrovsky with 50 shots on goal, keeping the Blue Jackets goalie busy all night.
“We competed hard,” Crosby said. “We played desperate and really aggressive. That’s the game we have to play. It’s not always going to result in 50 shots, but it’s our style of play.”
Chris Kunitz had a power-play goal and Kris Letang scored into an empty net for Pittsburgh, which has the upstart Blue Jackets on the verge of elimination with an opportunity to close out the series Monday during Game 6 in Columbus.
“Their coach challenged them and they responded,” Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. “Now, we have to do the same thing on Monday.”
It hasn’t been easy for the Penguins, a team considered by many a Stanley Cup contender. Columbus, which began the series searching for its first playoff win in franchise history, twice rallied to stun the heavily favored Penguins and outshot Pittsburgh three of the previous four games this series.
Boone Jenner scored the lone goal for Columbus, which played its first Game 5 in franchise history.
“I don’t think anybody in this room would say they’re uncomfortable going into the next game,” Blue Jackets forward Ryan Johansen said. “Like we’ve been saying, all the guys, we believe we can get this done.”
Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury recovered from a game-changing gaffe in Game 4 for the victory on Saturday, making 23 saves. Fleury is 4-1 in his last five games after a playoff overtime loss.
“He was solid,” Crosby said. “He showed his experience tonight.”
Bobrovsky stopped 48 shots for the Blue Jackets.
“They were going to the net hard and obviously it was something they talked about, to make it hard on Bobrovsky,” Richards said. “It’s how they wanted to play the game.”
Crosby and Malkin, despite playing on the same line and combining for eight shots, still haven’t scored through five playoff games, but the message was sent.
“I think we went into the game with a good idea that we were going to see that,” Bylsma said. “With the matchup, we were able to give those guys a good opportunity to play together and be a force.”
Crosby, who led the league in scoring with 104 points, hasn’t scored in his last 10 playoff games overall, while Malkin has gone nine without a goal. Richards hopes to extend the goal-less drought another game.
“I have the last change, so it’s something I can possibly control a little bit better,” Richards said. “But it makes for something different when you see (Crosby) and (Malkin) on the same line.”
The teams were tied at 1 entering the third, but Jokinen touched a backhand rebound past Bobrovsky along the far post 6:16 into the period. Letang scored an empty-netter with 1:01 to play to seal it.
A 3-1 lead appeared to be a kiss of death for the team leading in the first four games of the series. Not on Saturday.
Both sides endured wild momentum swings through the first four games, all decided by a 4-3 margin where the winning team rallied from a 3-1 deficit every time for the first time in league history. The Penguins twice had an opportunity to take a two-game lead in the series, while Columbus put Pittsburgh in a two-goal hole two times, only to come up short.
The Penguins were seconds away from taking a 3-1 lead during the best-of-seven series in Game 5 when Fleury misplayed a puck behind the net, leading to Brandon Dubinsky’s tying goal that forced overtime and Nick Foligno’s innocent-looking wrist shot from the blue line that evaded Fleury and evened the series.
Fleury, who was benched during Pittsburgh’s run to the conference finals last year, responded Saturday.
“I think dealing with the pressure that he has, he was able to turn the page pretty quickly,” Crosby said. “That’s what he needs to do, especially in the playoffs.”
Jenner helped the Blue Jackets score first Saturday with a power-play goal midway through the opening period. Fleury sprawled to cover a rebound at the top of the crease, but the puck came loose and Jenner jammed a shot home along the near post.
Kunitz tied it with a second-period power-play goal, corralling a bouncing rebound in front of the net and backhanding it past Bobrovsky.
Jokinen’s goal in the third put the Blue Jackets on the brink.
“I expect nothing other than what they’ve done all year, to respond,” Richards said.
NOTES: The NHL announced a 7 p.m. start for Game 6 in Columbus. … Penguins D Brooks Orpik missed the game with an undisclosed injury. … Penguins F Brian Gibbons (undisclosed) was out for a third straight game. … Marcel Goc returned to the lineup for Pittsburgh after missing four games with a foot injury. … Blue Jackets D Fedor Tyutin (lower body) played after missing two games, while D Ryan Murray (lower body), who missed Game 4, was also back in the lineup.