Pittsburgh Penguins left wing James Neal (left) and left wing Chris Kunitz (middle) react after defenseman Matt Niskanen (2) scored a goal against the Columbus Blue Jackets during the second period in game one of the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the CONSOL Energy Center.
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Brandon Sutter scored on a wrist shot from the left circle 8:18 into the third period, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins rally for a 4-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Wednesday night.
Beau Bennett and Matt Niskanen scored power-play goals 45 seconds apart in the second period, erasing Pittsburgh’s two-goal deficit. Jussi Jokinen also scored for the Penguins and Marc-Andre Fleury overcame some shaky defense to stop 31 shots.
Game 2 is Saturday night.
Jack Johnson, Mark Letestu and Derek Mackenzie scored for the Blue Jackets, who fell to 0-5 all-time in postseason games. Sergei Bobrovsky finished with 28 saves but was handcuffed by Sutter’s knuckling wrister at the end of a 2-on-1 break.
The Blue Jackets insisted they wouldn’t be intimidated despite Pittsburgh’s overwhelming edge in playoff experience and star power. The Penguins also swept the five regular-season meetings between the two teams.
It took Columbus all of a period to go out and prove it.
Johnson gave the Blue Jackets their first-ever postseason lead 6:20 into the game, charging to the front of the net and taking a feed from Brandon Dubinsky before beating Fleury with a beautiful deke from his forehand to his backhand.
The Penguins answered with 2:51 left in the first when Evgeni Malkin — returning after missing three weeks with a foot injury — took advantage of a turnover by Fedor Tyutin and hit Jokinen in the slot. The knuckling wrist shot sailed over Bobrovsky’s right shoulder and Pittsburgh exhaled.
But only briefly.
With Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi off for interference, the Blue Jackets went back in front 2-1 when Letestu jammed home a rebound and sent Columbus soaring into the dressing room. The high only grew when the puck hopped over Kris Letang’s stick and set Mackenzie loose for a breakaway that led to a short-handed goal that pushed the advantage to 3-1 just 43 seconds into the second.
It took the league’s top-ranked power play less than two minutes to even it.
Bennett tipped in a Niskanen slap shot 51 seconds after Mackenzie scored, pulling Pittsburgh with a goal. Johnson was quickly whistled for interference and Niskanen needed only 10 seconds to even the game with a snap shot from the left circle.
Things settled down after the five goals in 5 minutes, but Columbus didn’t exactly shrink from the spotlight. The Blue Jackets carried play at times as the youngest club in the league made the Metropolitan Division champions look very much like one of the oldest for the first two periods.
The Penguins righted themselves in the third, looking very much like the team that cruised to a division title. The miscues that plagued them for the first 40 minutes disappeared, replaced by the kind of responsible play they know they’ll need to make a serious run at the franchise’s fourth Stanley Cup.
NOTES: Pittsburgh is 10-3 in its last 13 Game 1s played on home ice. … The Blue Jackets scratched forwards R.J. Umberger (upper body) and Nick Foligno (lower body), though coach Todd Richards said both players could be available for Game 2. … Penguins forward Marcel Goc (foot) skated on Wednesday morning before his teammates hit the ice but coach Dan Bylsma indicated there is still no timetable for his return. Goc hasn’t played since March 22.