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Penguins eliminate Blue Jackets with 5-2 win in Game 5

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Marc-Andre Fleury made 49 saves and Sidney Crosby and Scott Wilson scored 51 seconds apart in the third period, helping the Penguins eliminate the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 5-2 win in Game 5 of their first-round series on Thursday night.

The Penguins survived, and now they advance.

Never leaving much doubt, Pittsburgh (4-1), like it did for its first two home wins of the series, scored first, kept an even flow on the offensive end and held their own on the blue line for 60 minutes, taking down Columbus (1-4) in the game five clincher of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena.

Marc-Andre Fleury closed the series as strong as he opened it, stopping 49 of 51 shots, including a perfect 19 of 19 in the 3rd period.  

Fleury, who finished the series with a solid 2.52 GAA, leapfrogged Tom Barrasso in most postseason victories in securing his 57th Thursday night. 

“I’m just taking this one game at a time, and trying to enjoy it,” said Fleury.  “To be here in front of our fans, and to be able to get that win is great.”

“Flower played unbelievable tonight,” said Phil Kessel of his unflappable teammate.  “When you have a goalie that stands on his head like that and makes a lot of saves it makes it easy on you.  He’s playing great for us, making big saves, timely saves, and when you get that it is easier to win.”

Kessel channeled the competitive spirit of Fleury early, when midway through the first period, he and Justin Schultz acted out a page from the Stockton/Malone playbook, utilizing a sharp give-and-go in the Blue Jackets zone during a power play leading to a lethal wrister and top shelf finish for Kessel, who punched in his 2nd goal of the postseason.

Bryan Rust then answered the call with two consecutive goals (3, 4) in the 2nd period, which gave the Pens a commanding 3-0 advantage just four minutes into the period.  With his two goal's scored, Rust now has nine career postseason goals in just two postseason's as a Penguin.

“It was good to get a three-goal lead,” said Kessel, who added two assists to an outstanding campaign Thursday night.  “It was good that we ended this tonight.  You never want to go back to (Columbus) for another game.”

That scenario felt closer to a reality when the Blue Jackets abruptly responded, scoring the final two goals of the 2nd period, including a Boone Jenner (2) one-timer on the man-advantage with just under eight minutes left in the period, bringing the Pens lead to just a one-goal difference.

The Penguins managed to fend off the only other two power play opportunities for Columbus, including a Jake Guentzel hooking call midway through the third period that saw three supreme chances for the Blue Jackets to carve their way back into the game fell to no avail thanks to swift defense, and the quick reactions of Fleury.

“You have to give recognition and credit to that Columbus Blue Jackets team, they are a hard team to play against,” said Coach Mike Sullivan.  “They are well-coached, they are a good and young team, and one of the top teams in the league.  Their success is no accident, they are the real deal.”

Sullivan talked about the incredible ebbs and flows of momentum in not just Thursday night’s game, but the entire series.

“Tonight, I think was a microcosm of the series, as there were momentum swings both ways.  I don’t know if any moment in any game that any one of us felt like we settled into the game.  It felt like it was an emotional rollercoaster.  They had momentum and we would be on our heels, and there were times when it was the opposite.  I think when I look back on the five games that were played, that is my observation.”

That rollercoaster finally drifted safely back to the terminal when Sidney Crosby (2) stabbed the Blue Jackets with the most brutal dagger of the series, a mathematically-timed angled score from the right side of the goal that slipped past Sergei Bobrovsky and into the net, giving the Pens a 4-2 advantage just five minutes into the period.

Scott Wilson then sealed the deal with his first goal of the postseason just 50 seconds later.

Bobrovsky, who had a forgettable series, stopped 27 of 32 shots, finishing with a .891 save percentage, which was surprisingly the second-best showing for the goalie in his postseason career.

The power play served as Pittsburgh’s mainstay Thursday night, finishing 2 for 4 on the man-advantage.

“It’s important to every series, special teams, and tonight it was really important for us to gain some confidence on it,” said Crosby.  “We start fresh next series, and whoever we play I’m sure it will bring different challenges, but it was better that the (power play) was able to help us throughout this whole series.”

The Penguins now await their fate as the Washington/Toronto series plays out.  If Toronto upsets the Capitals, Pittsburgh will host the Maple Leafs for Game’s one and two at some point next week.  If Washington wins, the Penguins will be on the road for Game’s one and two.

Washington (-200) and Toronto—who are currently tied in the series 2-2—will face off tomorrow night in the nation’s capital for game five.  Puck drops at 7 PM.

After the Moneyline

The Penguins (-200) tied as the biggest chalk favorites for the entire NHL playoff schedule thus far, Thursday night.  The O/U, which was set at 5.5 goals went well over with seven total scored.

Pittsburgh won the series, which they were predicted in Vegas to do, as -158 favorites.  If you bet exact series outcome (5-total games) you were paid 8/1.

In terms of betting between the blue lines, the Pittsburgh Penguins are the public darlings of the Eastern Conference, however it is the Vegas Golden Knights who have dethroned the Pens as the top-wagered NHL team this year, and it looks to stay the same way as we enter the 2018 NHL Playoffs.
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