Columbus, OH- The longest and most successful season in the history of the Blue Jackets ended tonight when they awakened a Pittsburgh monster named Evgeni Malkin and couldn’t complete a dramatic comeback.
Malkin scored three times -- his first goals in the series -- to propel the visiting Penguins to a 4-3 victory in Game 6 that eliminated the Blue Jackets from the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Blue Jackets trailed 4-0 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game before mounting a furious attack that reflected the underdog spirit of a team that before this season knew only woe and heartache.
Three goals in a span of five minutes by the Blue Jackets suddenly had heavily favored Pittsburgh teetering on its skate blades before the Penguins managed to hang on for a win that ended a highly entertaining series.
Even after the 4-3 loss, the sellout crowd of 19,189 in Nationwide Arena saluted the Blue Jackets with a standing ovation and chants of “C-B-J” for their gutsy late-game comeback.
Malking’s first two goals staked Pittsburgh to a 2-0 lead after a period, and the Penguins increased that advantage to three just 34 seconds into the second period when Brandon Sutter scored on a breakaway.
Hope for a comeback seemed to evaporate in the form of a Malkin hat trick when he scored his third goal with 4:38 left in the second period.
At that point, the Penguins appeared to be on cruise control en route to becoming the first team in the series to win two consecutive games.
A boisterous crowd, however, urged on the Blue Jackets as they trailed for the final 47 minutes once Malkin ended his personal nine-game postseason scoring drought dating to last year’s second round.
The crowd of long-suffering fans saw the Blue Jackets rekindle the magic they displayed in the previous game at Nationwide: a Game 4 overtime classic that marked the team’s first-ever home postseason win.
The Blue Jackets' first goal tonight came with 9:39 remaining in the game when defenseman Fedor Tyutin scored.
Brandon Dubinsky cut the deficit to 4-2 with 6:06 with a goal that brought the crowd roaring back to life. Arteem Anisimov then scored on a power play with 4:47 remaining to make it a one-goal game.
Despite the season-ending defeat in Game 6, this series marked the high-water mark in the 14-year history of a Blue Jackets franchise whose only previous playoff appearance in 2009 series fizzled with the Detroit Red Wings outscoring them 18-7 in a four-game sweep.
The Jackets were much more rugged against the Penguins, at least in the first four games of the series when the teams stood deadlocked at 2-2 even though Pittsburgh has a powerful lineup led by Malkin and Sidney Crosby, considered the world’s top player.
Crosby failed to score in the series, but the Penguins flashed their high-power offense against Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky after Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma challenged his team to show more passion before Game 5.
The Penguins dominated that game Saturday in Pittsburgh, winning 3-1 with a 51-24 advantage in shots taken. The Blue Jackets took only three shots in the final 13 1/2 minutes of Game 5 after the Penguins' broke a 1-1 tie.
Game 5 was the fifth time in the series that the winning team came from behind. According to STATS Inc., since 1988 there had been four series, including this one, in which the team that scored first lost the first five games. Malkin made certain it still has never happened in a six-game series.
Pittsburgh’s scoring outburst began 4:11 into Game 6 when Malkin, perched on the net’s right doorstep, took a pass from Chris Kunitz from the left corner and scored to temporarily quiet a frenzied crowd.
Malkin scored his second goal on a power play with 6:47 left in the first period just 33 seconds after Nick Foligno was called for a two-minute roughing penalty.
Following a Sutter goal that put Pittsburgh up 3-0, Malkin scored for a third time with 4:38 remaining in the second period.
Malkin took only 12 shots in the first three games of the series, and none in Game 4. He took two in Game 5 and had two others blocked.
His outburst in Game 6, however, was no surprise considering history.
Five years ago, Malkin (34 points) and Crosby (31) became the only NHL players since 1996 to each top 30 points in a postseason while leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup championship. In 2008, Crosby (27 points) and Malkin (22) were first and fifth overall among playoff scorers as Pittsburgh made the Cup finals.
Such firepower proved to be too much for the Blue Jackets, the youngest team in these Stanley Cup playoffs, with 11 players who had never appeared in a postseason game when this series began.
The Blue Jackets produced a split in the first four games of the series by establishing a strong forecheck. By dumping the puck into one of the corners, they totaled 215 hits and their physical play kept the Penguins from using their transition game.
That changed in Game 5, and Pittsburgh’s control continued until the final 10 minutes of Game 6 when the Blue Jackets mounted a comeback drenched in drama but one that ultimately ended in defeat.