It was a move Dan Bylsma had planned in advance, skating Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the same line in Game 5 against Columbus, and the players knew it before the fact.
But even Bylsma hadn’t anticipated the two playing together as much as they wound up playing together _ two-plus periods’ worth _ in the Penguins’ come-from-behind, 3-1 triumph.
“It probably happened a little bit more than we initially planned but I liked it,” Bylsma admitted.
What’s not to like?
The Penguins outshot the Blue Jackets, 51-24, and out-attempted the visitors, 82-45.
After treating the puck like a grenade through much of the first period, the Penguins found their gear and popped it into overdrive.
Both Bylsma and his behind-the-bench counterpart, the Blue Jackets’ Todd Richards, cited matchups as a factor in the decision to load up with the players formerly known as the best and second-best in the world on the same line.
But this turned out to be about so much more than what Crosby and Malkin were doing.
The rest of the Penguins’ rearranged lines and altered defensive pairs _ Robert Bortuzzo filled in for an injured Brooks Orpik _ found a rhythm and cohesion the Blue Jackets couldn’t match no matter what line Brandon Dubinsky wound up playing against.
“We all played a pretty strong game,” Crosby assessed.
Added Jussi Jokinen regarding the Crosby-Malkin overload: “I don’t know if it was that or everyone working a little bit harder, paying a little more price.”
It was at least as much the latter.
The Jokinen-Brandon-Sutter-James Neal line was effective and then some.
So was the Beau Bennett-Marcel Goc/Joe Vitale-Lee Stempniak threesome.
So was the Tanner Glass-Goc/Vitale-Craig Adams line.
Crosby and Malkin are both still looking for their first goal of the series, but the other combinations, while still less than lethal, are suddenly inspiring confidence and, more importantly, getting the job done.
The Pens’ new look produced a performance that left Bylsma handing out compliments like it was the first of the month.
Sutter was “real strong.”
Vitale “played one of his better games.”
And on the back end Kris Letang played “his best game, without question, of the playoffs.”
Matt Niskanen and Olli Maatta “played their best game, as well.”
The return to the lineup of Goc, a much-needed presence at center in the event Malkin would be used on the wing, helped make it all possible.
“That was a big part of it for sure,” Bylsma confirmed. “That was a big part of feeling comfortable with that situation.”
By plan and by happenstance, the Penguins may have finally honed in on what might turn out to be a deployment of personnel that ultimately decides this series.
“We were stronger,” Bylsma said. “We pushed the play. We got to 50 shots. We didn’t just get it by firing it from the blueline. We got it by going to another level in our game.”
Stay tuned with regard to what happens on Monday night in Columbus, during the Penguins’ next installment of what’s my line?
“I don’t know, that’s why we have a very smart coaching staff,” Jokinen said. “They know the best thing going forward.”