The 3-1 score has been a demarcation point throughout the series between the Penguins and Blue Jackets. During the first four games, the team that went ahead by that margin eventually lost. On Saturday, Pittsburgh overcame 48 saves by Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and defeated Columbus by the magic score of 3-1 to a 3-2 series lead. There is still unease surrounding the heavily favored Penguins, but for one night, Pittsburgh can exhale and head to Columbus with a chance to clinch the series on Monday night.
Some observations from the Penguins’ impressive Game 5 win:
• Sidney Crosby was ready to go on Saturday. During each of his first two shifts, the Penguins captain exchanged pushes, shoves and swipes with Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson, an old friend from the days when the two were teenaged teammates at Shattuck St. Mary’s in Minnesota. The pair shared a laugh after one of the scraps. The Blue Jackets have done a nice job of getting the physical Brandon Dubinsky on the ice, with or without the last change, to challenge Crosby. Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, who had tried to split the captain and Evgeni Malkin for many games this season when both players were healthy, paired them together for much of the evening and tried to put Brandon Sutter’s line out against Dubinsky but still couldn’t keep Crosby away from his very effective Columbus nemesis for the entire contest.
• Neither Bobrovsky, nor Marc-Andre Fleury have minded their nets to the best of their capabilities, but Bobrovsky came close on Saturday. He faced seven shots from Chris Kunitz, six from Crosby, and an astonishing 51 in total. Fleury, who has been a source of worry for Penguins fans throughout the series and the last few years’ worth of playoffs, received a warm ovation from the fans late in the game as his masked face was flashed on the scoreboard.
• For all their skill, the Penguins don’t have very many players who like to go to the dirty areas. Pittsburgh has gotten good production from its defensemen during the series – 16 points throughout the first four games – and on power plays. But in five-on-five situations, the Pens have not been very busy in the high-traffic areas. After Boone Jenner staked Columbus to a 1-0 lead at 12:55 of the first period, it took that very type of physical commitment for Pittsburgh to even the score, 1-1, with a power-play goal at 7:42 of the second. Give Kunitz full marks for his second and third effort in the slot to produce the goal. With Kunitz screening Bobrovsky, Crosby sent a soft shot on goal between the forward’s legs. Bobrovsky made the initial save, but Kunitz took two more whacks at the puck before stuffing it in after three Jackets failed to move him away from the doorstep.
• Pittsburgh did a good job of catching the Blue Jackets making a fairly slow change that led to the Penguins’ second goal, at 6:16 of the third period. Lee Stempniak gained the zone for the Penguins and crossed from right to left on his off-wing. Bobrovsky made the initial save, but the puck fell into his crease where Jussi Jokinen backhanded it into the net.
• The Penguins have a habit of giving up late goals, but managed to stay aggressive towards the end of the game and ultimately picked up an empty-net tally by skilled defenseman Kris Letang, the first point of the playoffs for a man who produced 16 points in 15 playoff games last year. Give credit to Brandon Sutter, perhaps the most efficient Penguin during the game, for winning some late face-offs and drawing the attention of two Blue Jackets on the empty-net goal. The game marked the fifth straight in the series in which the team that scored first went on to lose, but at last, a team produced a 3-1 lead in a series that stood up. Now the Penguins will see if their 3-2 lead in in the series can stand up, if their goaltender can keep his improved frame of mind, and whether a superior team can act like it and finish off a very pesky foe.
• The Penguins miss pesty blue liner Brooks Orpik, one of the few players who seems to get more ornery during the mad push of playoff time. Orpik left practice a day earlier and the Penguins did not comment on his status.
The Blue Jackets and Penguins will meet in Game 6 at 7 p.m. on Monday night in Columbus.