For a time, it seemed as though the Blue Jackets wouldn’t be able to pull together a single win. The Penguins’ experience was proving insurmountable, with Pittsburgh outscoring Columbus 7-2 over the first two games.
Game Three of the series tightened up a little, but the Penguins still took the 5-4 overtime victory. Columbus was on the other end of things with a 5-4 Game Four victory, but Pittsburgh closed it out Thursday night.
The Penguins outscored the Blue Jackets 21-13 in the series.
Jake Guentzel led the way in goal-scoring for Pittsburgh, while Bryan Rust put together a two-goal performance in Game Four and displayed the Penguins’ secondary scoring. Rust now has seven goals in nine elimination games, an astonishing feat.
Patric Hornqvist also had a good series against Columbus, while Evgeni Malkin led the way in assists and points.
But Pittsburgh’s game also took a turn in goal, where Marc-Andre Fleury wound up a starter again after an injury to Matt Murray. And Fleury has been solid, making the most of his opportunity between the pipes. In Game Four, he stood in the way of a shelling by the Blue Jackets and made 49 saves. The win gave him his 57th playoff victory, surpassing Tom Barrasso on the Penguins’ all-time list.
In a sense, that told the story of the series.
Columbus peppered the Penguins with shots, but the scoring didn’t come when it needed to. The Blue Jackets even played a more physical game, out-hitting their opponents 37-18 in Game Four.
But it didn’t matter in the face of experience and the opportunistic play of the Penguins, who simply buckled down and did the work. In the end, they were the better hockey team and they put together the better series.
The Penguins await the winner of the Toronto/Washington series, which is currently knotted at two games apiece with Game Five set for Friday night.