Among the Game 5 revelations against Columbus was that the Penguins don’t always lose the battles in front of the net at both ends.
Chris Kunitz outmaneuvered Jack Johnson and David Savard well enough to get multiple whacks at a rebound on the first Penguins’ goal.
And Brandon Sutter and Jussi Jokinen did the same to James Wisniewski and Nikita Nikitin on the second.
That ability to repeatedly get critical positioning and make the most of it counteracted the scramble in front of Marc-Andre Fleury that resulted in Boone Jenner’s tap-in tally.
For the most part the Penguins owned that decisive real estate just outside of each crease.
A residual effect beyond the actual scoring of goals was all the traffic in front of and contact with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky; the Blue Jackets absolutely noticed that.
First and foremost Columbus head coach Todd Richards wants to see that change tonight in Game 6.
“We needed to be harder in front of our net,” Richards observed after Game 5, a 3-1 Penguins victory that achieved a three-games-to-two series lead. “And we didn’t spend enough time in their zone to create the same type of scrums around their net.”
For both teams winning Game 6 may start and ultimately end there.
A few other pregame nuggets:
-The Penguins allowed two shots in the final 13:38 of regulation in Game 4 and three shots in the final 13:44 (after Jokinen’s goal established a 2-1 lead) of Game 5. The Pens have been the better third-period team in four of the five games.
They may have to be again. The teams have entered the third period tied or within a goal of one another eight times in the first 10 meetings this season (five regular-season, five postseason).
-The Pens lost 53.5 percent of the face-offs through the first four games but managed a 57 percent success rate in Game 5. They did so despite Marcel Goc enduring a sub-.500 night in the circle (5-for-11, 45 percent) after returning from a 13-game absence due to injury. Goc succeeded at a 55 percent clip on draws in the regular season and won 63 percent or more five times in his 12 regular-season games with the Pens. He’s likely to be better there tonight.
-Jokinen’s Game 5 game-winning goal was his second of the series. The only other players with as many in a series in Penguins history are Evgeni Malkin, Kevin Stevens, Mario Lemieux (three times), Jaromir Jagr (three times), Tyler Kennedy, Rob Brown, Rick Kehoe and Michel Briere.
Stevens had three game-winning goals in the 1991 Patrick Division Final against Washington.
-Kris Letang’s 14th career playoff goal (the empty-net exclamation point in Game 5) left him one shy of Larry Murphy’s franchise-record 15 for a defenseman in the postseason.