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My Mourning Jackets: Penguins Hold Off Columbus, 5-3



The Pittsburgh Penguins have whittled their magic number to 29.

Not to clinch, say, a division championship or home-ice advantage for the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, but to avoid finishing last in the Metropolitan Division.

OK, so that’s not much of a feat for a franchise with five Stanley Cup banners hanging in PPG Paints Arena but, hey, you take your accomplishments where you can find them.

And with their chances of qualifying for the postseason on mathematical life support, not looking up at the rest of the division might be about the best for which the Penguins can hope.

They padded their lead over last-place Columbus with a 5-3 victory at PPG Paints Arena to 12 points last night, snapping a three-game losing streak and raising their record to 28-24-8. It was their 14th consecutive victory at home against the Blue Jackets.

The Penguins also have played two fewer games than Columbus, although games-in-hand tend to be no more valuable than $3 in Confederate currency to them.

They also have three games-in-hand on Philadelphia, which is third in the Metropolitan and holds an eight-point lead over the Penguins.

As much as the Penguins appreciated the points, no one would mistake this game for a work of art. Not even one that’s a finger-painting by a first-grader.

Mike Sullivan shook up his forward lines at the start of the game, moving Lars Eller — generally, the third-line center — to left wing on the top line and plugging Drew O’Connor, normally a winger, into Eller’s usual spot.

The fourth line had a different look, too, with Noel Acciari and Jansen Harkins unavailable because of injuries. Their places were taken by Joona Koopanen, recalled from the Penguins’ American Hockey League affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, and Jonathan Gruden.

Jesse Puljujarvi, a healthy scratch for the previous two games and five of the previous seven, got his first goal as a Penguin at 13:33 of the opening period.

Ryan Graves held the puck in at the left point, then threw a pass to Puljujarvi, who was alone in front of Blue Jackets goalie Jet Greaves and flipped a shot over his glove.

Evgeni Malkin made it 2-0 at 18:57, when he drove a shot past Greaves from above the right dot for his 18th of the season and second in as many games.

Graves, whose only previous two-assist game came Nov. 11 against Buffalo, earned his second of the period. Reilly Smith got the other, his 500th point in the NHL.

Johnny Gaudreau ended Tristan Jarry’s bid for his league-leading seventh shutout at 4:31 of the second, beating him from inside the right circle to make it 2-1.

Malkin put the puck into the net again at 5:28, but this time, it was the net behind Jarry.

Blue Jackets defenseman Andrew Peeke snapped a wrist shot from the right point and the puck deflected off Malkin and behind Jarry.

The Penguins were awarded the first power play of the game, and turned it into a go-ahead goal.

Through no fault of their own.

Blue Jackets defenseman Erik Gudbranson tired to swat a puck down the ice from behind the goal line near Greaves’ right post, but the puck caromed off Penguins winger Rickard Rakell’s skate and into the net for his ninth of the season.

Columbus center Sean Kuraly was assessed a minor for high-sticking P.O Joseph as the period ended, but the Pittsburgh Penguins could not capitalize.

They got their third chance with the man-advantage when Columbus center Cole Sillinger was sent off for cross-checking Marcus Pettersson at 7:34, but Blue Jackets winger Jack Roslovic beat Jarry from inside the right dot 30 seconds later to tie the game.

The Penguins still had the extra man when Jeff Carter put them back in front at 8:26, as his centering pass bounced off Peeke and into the net. Blue Jackets alum Emil Bemstrom and Smith got assists on the goal, Carter’s eighth.

Smith closed out the scoring at 9:53, when he beat Greaves from between the hash marks for his 11th after Malkin stole the puck in the left-wing corner and slid a pass to him.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will have a scheduled day off Wednesday. They will face Washington Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.