After a beyond-solid performance in Saturday’s Game 5, it’s tempting to say the Pittsburgh Penguins have turned the corner and are just a few hours from advancing beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second straight spring.
However, as we’ve seen in this series against the tenacious Columbus Blue Jackets, conclusions haven’t been easy to find. When the team that scores the first goal is 0-5, it’s anyone’s guess which way a game will finish until the clock ticks down to triple zeroes.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because the Penguins went through a similar first-round series last year, when the New York Islanders pushed them to a degree that couldn’t have been predicted. Interestingly enough, this year’s matchup with Columbus has followed the same pattern of the Islanders series, with Pittsburgh winning Games 1, 3 and 5 prior to Game 6 on the road.
You’ll probably recall the Pens looked dominating in a Game 5 shutout victory over New York, only to need late goals from defensemen Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik on Long Island to avoid a seventh game. From the nature of that game alone, you have to figure the Jackets will be laying all their cards on the table Monday night at Nationwide Arena.
But that’s typical for any team facing imminent elimination. Factor in the unpredictable nature of this series – and that there have been 10 successful two-goal comebacks across the NHL so far these playoffs – and it’s beyond difficult to say what the Penguins have to do to secure a series-clinching win in Ohio.
Of course, getting goals from Sidney Crosby and/or Evgeni Malkin would tilt the odds in Pittsburgh’s favor, but so would another smart, intense effort like we saw Saturday night at Consol Energy Center. Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was strong in Game 5, but if the Pens can come close to replicating their 50-shot, 80-attempt output, you’ve got to like their chances to advance.
One difference between last year and this year is that Marc-Andre Fleury still has his feet planted firmly in the Pittsburgh crease. (Maybe he should’ve kept them in the blue paint in the latter stages of Game 4, but I digress.) At this point against the Islanders, Tomas Vokoun was coming off a shutout performance and wouldn’t relinquish the net for the duration of the playoffs.
Game 4 hiccups aside, Fleury has arguably been the Penguins’ most consistent and best player in the series. If he keeps that up, you’d have to think Pittsburgh’s territorial advantage in the series will be enough to carry them through to Round 2.
Tonight’s Game: Penguins vs. Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio
Series Status: Penguins lead 3-2
Faceoff: 7 p.m. ET
TV: Root Sports Pittsburgh (local), NBC Sports Network (national)
Radio: 105.9 The X
Orpik, who sat out Game 5 with an undisclosed injury, was absent from the Penguins’ game-day workout. Robert Bortuzzo took his place Saturday and played a strong game alongside Rob Scuderi on the third defense pairing.