Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) and left wing Jussi Jokinen (36) celebrate after defeating the Columbus Blue Jackets in game five of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center. The Penguins won 3-1.
PITTSBURGH – Whether or not it was truly said in the locker room, it was understood.
All the pressure in Saturday night’s Game Five in Pittsburgh was on the Penguins. Every little bit of it.
A strange but competitive series was all even after four games and a Penguins meltdown late in Game Four. The Columbus Blue Jackets continue to be the underdog that refuses to go quietly, and the Penguins have paid for lackadaisical stretches and the absence of their biggest-name players.
In Game Five, the Penguins went on the attack. Now, the Blue Jackets are almost out of chances.
It’s still a strange series in that the team to score first is now 0-5, but the series is 3-2, Penguins, after the home team kept star Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky busy and beat him once in each of the last two periods to regain control, at least for now. An empty-netter made the final score Saturday night 3-1.
The more desperate team won Games Two, Three and Four, and that team Saturday night was the Penguins. They were the dominant team, too.
"We played desperate," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "We played really aggressive. We were on our toes, created a lot of havoc, created a lot of chances.
"It’s not always going to result in 50 shots but that’s more our style of play."
Bobrovsky’s 48-save night in those 50 chances went for naught. The Blue Jackets got just 24 shots themselves.
"(The Penguins) took it to another level in the second period," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "We spent too much time in our own zone, didn’t have much of a forecheck.
"When you spend that much time in your own zone, you’re going to give up opportunities and lots of shots."
Through the first four games, the difference in total shots had only been five.
On the ice, the Penguins recovered from Boone Jenner’s goal a little less than 13 minutes in by putting steady pressure on the Blue Jackets defense and breaking through 7:42 into the second period on a Chris Kunitz power play goal. Kunitz deflected a Crosby shot into the net, and assists went to Crosby and Matt Niskanen, who’s been very good throughout the series.
A tweak by Penguins coach Dan Bylsma had Crosby playing on many shifts alongside Evgeni Malkin, a shift Bylsma said both Crosby and Malkin wanted. Neither Crosby nor Malkin has scored in the playoffs, but Jussi Jokinen’s third goal of the series proved to be the game winner 6:16 into the third.
Three nights after inexplicably leaving the crease to chase a bouncing puck and subsequently allowing the equalizer at what was essentially an open net, Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury stayed home and stayed strong after the Blue Jackets pulled Bobrovsky in the final two minutes on Saturday. Crosby’s diving shot at an empty net went wide, and Kris Letang put the rebound in to finalize what long appeared done.
"We pushed the play, we got to 50 shots and we didn’t get it by just firing from the blue line," Bylsma said. "We got it by going to another level in our game and I would include (Crosby) in that, too."
Bylsma didn’t want to use the word "pressure" when talking about his team’s situation but did say they’d talked about "expectations…kind of outside perception, outside expectations, bringing that to the rink."
Bylsma had challenged the entire team to play better, including Crosby and Malkin. Crosby said the team talked about building on the momentum it had created in the second period, when the Penguins got 21 shots and their first goal.
In the third, Crosby said, "we found another level."
The Blue Jackets couldn’t match it, and it was obvious from where all the aforementioned pressure and expectations had come.
"I thought we’d generate some good chances," Crosby said. "I didn’t expect that many. We played a pretty strong game."
Said Bylsma: "We have to play the game like we did tonight where we push the play, pin them in the offensive zone."
The Blue Jackets get home ice for Game Six, but they’re backs are now pinned firmly against the wall.