Penguins eliminate Blue Jackets in Game 5
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins asked goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to go to a podium to speak with reporters Thursday night. Special treatment for a special performance.
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The seat on that little stage in the bowels of PPG Paints Arena was about the last place anyone expected Fleury to be a week and a half earlier, heading into a first-round Eastern Conference playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
But there he was, talking about making 49 saves in the Game 5 series clincher, a 5-2 win. Talking about the thunderous ovations he got.
"To be at home in front of our fans, to get that win with the support they gave me throughout the years -- (I) still get butterflies and goosebumps when I hear the crowd chant," Fleury said.
Fleury, 32 and the long-time franchise goalie, lost his No. 1 job to 22-year-old Matt Murray over the course of the season. But Murray got a lower-body injury during the warmups just before Game 1.
Fleury stepped in and helped Pittsburgh win the series four games to one, along the way becoming the club's all-time leader with 57 postseason wins.
"I think once you realize you never know what's coming, you try to enjoy every moment that you have," Fleury said. "We have a great team. We have great fans. It's a fun place to play. Try to embrace it and enjoy the momentum."
Pittsburgh, the defending Stanley Cup champion, advances to play the winner of the Capitals-Maple Leafs series, which is tied 2-2 heading into Game 5 on Friday in Washington.
Despite a last gasp from Columbus in the second period Thursday, the Penguins dispatched the Blue Jackets, whose only win came in Game 4.
The Penguins built a 3-0 lead through the early part of the second period in Game 5 on a goal by Phil Kessel and two from Bryan Rust. Columbus responded with goals from William Karlsson and Boone Jenner to pull to within 3-2 before the end of the second.
"Just try to regroup," Penguins center Sidney Crosby said. "They had some momentum there. You don't want to make it close. When you get a lead like that, you want to try to put them away, but they hung around. They did that for a lot of the series.
"We knew that they weren't going to quit. We just tried to regroup in the third and gain momentum back and, hopefully, get the next one."
In fact, Crosby did just that, scoring on a one-timer from Evgeni Malkin for a power-play goal and some breathing room at 5:31 of the third before Scott Wilson scored 51 seconds later on a backward tip to give the Penguins an insurmountable 5-2 lead.
"We played our (rear) off," Columbus coach John Tortorella said. "That (didn't feel like) a 4-1 series.
"I thought our guys had no fear playing against the Stanley Cup champs."
Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 27 of 32 Pittsburgh shots in Game 5, but at times in the series did not play quite up to the standard that has him a likely Vezina Trophy contender.
"They have good players. They're a good team," Bobrovsky said. "So, they beat me. It's always, as I say, to learn from it and move on.
"It's a tough feeling, but we have a really good group of guys here. We have to learn from it."
For Pittsburgh, it's unclear whether Fleury or Murray might play in the second round. Murray has yet to practice and might not be physically ready.
The Penguins have repeatedly said they are comfortable with either goalie, and Fleury -- who helped Pittsburgh win the 2009 Cup before yielding to Murray last year after a late-season injury -- didn't let them down in this series, stopping 181 of 194 shots in the five games.
"He's a world-class goalie. We're lucky to have him," defenseman Ian Cole said.
NOTES: Blue Jackets LW Nick Foligno missed his first game of the series because of a lower-body injury. ... Columbus D Zach Werenski was named one of three finalists for the Calder Trophy, which goes to the NHL's top rookie. He missed the last two games of the series due to a broken cheekbone. ... Penguins RW Phil Kessel and D Trevor Daley, who did not practice Wednesday, were in the lineup. ... Blue Jackets veteran LW Scott Hartnell took the lineup spot vacated by Foligno after being a healthy scratch for Game 4 in Columbus.