The Pittsburgh Penguins look like they are on the fast track back to the Stanley Cup after an impressive performance against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 1st round of the NHL playoffs.
Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and forward Bryan Rust all shined but goalie Marc-Andre Fleury may have stolen the show.
Rust scored 5 goals, including 2 in Game 5, finishing the series with a plus-5. How’s that for offensive efficiency?
22-year-old Jake Guentzel’s strong series may have flown under the radar but it still deserves recognition. Guentzel finished the series with five goals and an assist, becoming the first player to score five goals in his first four playoff games since Maurice “Rocket” Richard did it way back in 1944.
The line of Malkin and Phil Kessel proved formidable once again. Marc-Andre Fleury made 49 saves, a playoff career high, in Game 5 to help close out the series for the Penguins 4-1.
“He had to make a ton of huge saves,” Crosby said. “They weren’t necessarily routine, either. He was tested a lot. We don’t like to have to make him work that hard. He was our best player.”
“We had the opportunity last game to do it, and we didn’t,” Crosby said. “So it’s just kind of a relief to win it.”
The Pens now wait to face the winner of the Toronto Maple Leafs/Washington Capitals series.
The Blue Jackets end an exciting season where, at times, they were playing the best hockey in the NHL, winning 16-straight-games at one point.
Columbus finished the season with a franchise-record 108 points.
The Pens made them look overmatched and out-of-place.
“It’s never perfect out there by any stretch,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “We love their compete level. We love their ability to respond to the adversity we face or the challenges we face throughout the course of a game, throughout the course of a series.”
“I’m proud of our club,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. “That’s not a 4-1 series. I’m not going to (complain) about it. They win.”
For now the Penguins, the NHL’s highest-scoring team, look like they are the team to beat in the Stanley Cup playoff race.