Going in to Monday’s game six of the opening round playoff series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets, neither Sidney Crosby (the NHL’s leading scorer during the regular season) nor Evgeni Malkin (who led the league in scoring in 2011-2012) had scored a single goal this postseason. Arguably the two best hockey players in the world, the Penguins would have to get the pair going if they hoped to advance into the second round.
Coach Dan Bylsma’s solution? Put the two slumping superstars on the same line (along with winger Chris Kunitz). The results? An epic individual performance and a series win against the surprisingly scrappy Blue Jackets.
On the back of a hat trick from Malkin, the Penguins were able to hang on (albeit barely) for a 4-3 victory. They now await the winner of the series between the New York Rangers and the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round.
"When you can't score you need to just work and work every day through practice and the puck will [go] in," said Malkin. "Thanks to my linemates, they did a great job passing to me. I score the goals and [have] more confidence."
Thanks to the three goals from Malkin and another tally from Brandon Sutter (who would later leave the game with an undisclosed injury), the Penguins would enter the third period with a comfortable 4-0 lead. Then, things would really get interesting.
Unwilling to simply throw in the towel, the Blue Jackets would stage a ferocious comeback. Fedor Tyutin would get Columbus on the board halfway through the final frame with a shorthanded tally. Three minutes later, Artem Anisimov would cut the deficit to two, striking on the powerplay. Just over a minute later, Nick Foligno would bring the Blue Jackets to within one.
Alas, that is how the contest would conclude. Columbus’ spirited comeback would fall just short. The Blue Jackets have yet to advance past the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in their history. This time around they put on quite the showing, grinding hard until the very end.
"We've got a rivalry born here between the Jackets and Penguins," said Bylsma. "They gave us everything we could handle. It was a great series for them. They were an extremely tough first-round opponent."