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Recap: Pens clinch ticket with Rangers after 5-3 victory over Columbus

The Penguins jump up big early and then hold on down the stretch, beating the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3. Pittsburgh now moves onto the playoffs, where their first round opponent was decided tonight

Columbus Blue Jackets v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

“When they look back in the annals of history, people are gonna be talking about three things: the discovery of fire, invention of the submarine, and the Flint, Michigan Mega Bowl Penguins beating the Blue Jackets to secure third place in the Metropolitan Division.”

Much like Will Ferrell in Semi Pro, the Penguins engaged in a fairly meaningless game, since as results would go the Capitals lost and it ultimately didn’t matter what the Pens did tonight in order to clinch the third seed. By doing so, the Pens punched their ticket to play the New York Rangers in the first round (and avoid playing the Presidents Trophy winning Florida Panthers).

But for a team that has struggled with uneven efforts (to be charitable) down the stretch, tonight’s game could serve as one last chance to iron out last minute details and put a best foot forward for the playoffs.

One player who made a very positive impression was Marcus Pettersson. The defender, who has been a healthy scratch at times down the stretch for performance reasons, scored one goal (just his second of the season) and tacked on two more assists tonight. Two of Pettersson’s points, including his goal, came early on in the game — where Pittsburgh jumped up 3-0 on a Columbus team that played last night and had nothing left to really compete for on the outside of the playoffs.

Evgeni Malkin also ended the regular season on a positive note, scoring his 20th goal of the year. That marks 13 times the franchise center has hit this mark.

There was finally time for Evan Rodrigues to smile as well, the forward who played so well early in the season yet went so ice cold at the mid-way point was able to end the year with his 19th goal.

From there, the game meandered on. Kris Letang and Brian Boyle would add onto their respective impressive offensive seasons with a goal a piece.

The Blue Jackets didn’t totally check out and scored two goals in the third period. They also were good late in the first period but denied by Casey DeSmith on some scoring opportunities.

Now that the long and winding book of the 2021-22 regular season is over, the Pens finally know where they stand. With 105 points and a trip to New York for Games 1 and 2 next week.

Some thoughts

  • Once the Pens jumped up big early, one focus would be to just get out of the game without much damage being applied. Naturally, they were unable to do this when Brian Dumoulin was cut on his face by an errant skate. Luckily, and hopefully, it might appear the damage is superficial and likely to be painful but not derail him for the start of the playoffs. Jake Guentzel also crashed into the goal late in the game, but appeared no worse for wear. Probably just making sure everyone was still paying attention and staying worried.
  • You could really tell that the Pens will have another left shot defenseman available to use next game, when the salary cap disappears and the team is able to add Nathan Beaulieu from the LTIR. Petterson possibly played his best and most noticeable (in a positive way) game of the whole season tonight, looking like a guy who definitely does not want to be removed from the roster again.
  • Great game for the Boyle-Blueger-Rodrigues line. That’s sort of a mismatch or player style and skill level, and no doubt partially just created as a result of Jason Zucker’s unavailability tonight.
  • The first line was red hot but has cooled in the last two games once Bryan Rust got back on there. Has Rust gone from the team’s “line fixer” to it’s “line breaker”? My column:
  • (Just kidding on the above...Though Rust’s recent 10-15ish game stat-line isn’t veru encouraging. But that all goes out the window now anyways).
  • Now it’s time for Pens/Rangers, Round 2130. Or so it feels like, even though the two teams haven’t squared off since 2016.

Game 1 coming next week, now the fun and games truly begin.