There was an obvious desire to end the first 82-game schedule since 2019 with a win. The Pittsburgh Penguins had clinched a playoff spot weeks ago. The only remaining logistical matter was packing for Game 1 against the New York Rangers or the President’s Trophy-winning Florida Panthers. The Penguins needed just a point to finish third in the Metro. They could have fluffed off the regular-season finale against the Columbus Blue Jackets and rested their stars, but it was all hands on deck, including defacto starting goalie Casey DeSmith.
The game was not in doubt until a late Columbus rally pulled them within two goals, but the Penguins held on for a 5-3 win at PPG Paint Arena.
The Penguins quickly asserted themselves with some help from leaky Columbus goalie Jean-Francois Berube, who had issues in the first period.
The Penguins scored three times in the first six minutes, and Elvis Merzlikins replaced Berube.
Four minutes into the game, the Penguins worked the cycle at the top of the offensive zone. Evgeni Malkin circled the offensive zone and went to the net as Berube stopped Danton Heinen’s shot. Malkin (20) swept the rebound past the surprised goalie.
On Thursday, Sidney Crosby admitted he would try to smell the roses a little bit on what could be the last playoff run with 15-year teammates Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin, who are UFAs following the season.
Malkin led the Penguins with three shots and two points (1-1-2) in the first period.
The Penguins’ third goal arrived one minute after the second. Marcus Pettersson had one of the best periods in his Penguins career, including deking one defender on his way to the net (where he was given a phantom goalie interference call).
The Penguins again worked the high cycle, and Pettersson (2) beelined for the net and snapped a wrister past Berube.
Three goals in less than three minutes.
The Pittsburgh Penguins lost their way for a bit in the second period before dominating the latter second period.
Kris Letang set a personal best with his 68th point of the season as the Penguins pinned Columbus in the defensive zone. Letang (10) sneaked into the slot and sniped a one-timer past Merzlikins as Columbus chased the puck in the corner.
Marcus Pettersson’s big night continued two minutes later as he walked the blue line like he had sequined slippers. Pettersson’s shot hit Boyle (11) at the net-front as Boyle laughed in celebration.
Pettersson had three points (1-2-3).
It doesn’t matter how just how many. It was an impressive cap to Boyle’s regular season after signing a PTO to appear in training camp because he was unemployed last season. The 36-year-old forward is also the Penguins Masteron nominee.
Evan Rodrigues was pushing hard for his 20th goal. He rang the crossbar in the first period. Tried the spin-o-rama in the second and had a glorious one-timer earlier in the third period.
Columbus center Justin Danforth scored the first Columbus goal midway through the second period. Casey DeSmith misplayed a puck behind the net before Danforth squeaked a wrister through the goalie from the high slot.
Columbus netter a power-play goal midway through the second period. After it was 5-1 and the Penguins got chippy, the PK left Oliver Bjorkstrand alone near the net. Bjorkstrand (27) easily beat DeSmith from 15 feet.
Things got a little bit interesting later in the third period. Columbus scored another power-play goal when Gustav Nyquist deflected a shot past DeSmith.
Jakub Voracek had an uncontested chance in front a few moments later, but DeSmith sprawled to make the save.
Malkin and Boyle had two points (1-1-2). Teddy Blueger had a pair of assists.
With some irony, the only Pittsburgh Penguins line not to score was the top line with Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel, and Bryan Rust. Slackers.