PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby and Scott Wilson scored 51 seconds apart in the third period, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins eliminate the Columbus Blue Jackets with a 5-2 win in Game 5 of their first-round series on Thursday night.
Bryan Rust scored twice for Pittsburgh, Phil Kessel added his second of the playoffs and Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 49 saves. The defending Stanley Cup champions will face the winner of the Toronto-Washington series in the conference semifinals starting next week.
William Karlsson and Boone Jenner scored for the Blue Jackets, but Sergei Bobrovsky stopped just 27 of 32 shots to finish a forgettable series.
Columbus trailed by three in the second period but had a potential tying goal waved off in the third for interference. Pittsburgh responded immediately. Crosby’s one-timer on the power play restored a two-goal lead and Wilson’s backhand less than a minute later finished off the Blue Jackets.
Columbus avoided being swept with a spirited 5-4 win on Tuesday, extending the series by playing with the kind of desperation Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan insisted his team needed if it wanted to get some rest before the second round.
It’s a refrain Sullivan has preached repeatedly over the last couple weeks and once again, the Penguins didn’t listen.
And once again, they were able to get away with it thanks to Fleury. He fended off 15 shots in the first period alone, several of them from point-blank range. It gave the Penguins time to find their legs, and Kessel’s wrist shot from the top of the circle 9:07 into the first put Pittsburgh in front.
When Rust scored twice less than three minutes apart early in the second — both of them on backhand rebounds — the Penguins appeared to be in control.
The Blue Jackets, trying to extend a breakthrough season that included a franchise-record 108 points and the sixth-best record in the league, showed one last flash. Karlsson and Jenner beat Fleury twice in 2:54 at the game’s midway point and Columbus was right back in it.
The surge ended when Fleury flopped to the ground after Alex Wenneberg clipped the goaltender as he fought off a check in the crease five minutes into the third. Columbus coach John Tortorella and the rest of the Blue Jackets bench erupted in anger. Things only got worse for Columbus when Crosby powered a shot from just above the goal line by Bobrovsky. Wilson pushed the lead to three when he casually tapped a backhand by a woefully out of position Bobrovsky.
The Russian led the NHL in goals-against average (2.06) and save percentage (.931) during the regular season but couldn’t keep the league’s highest-scoring team in check. Pittsburgh scored at least three goals in all five games and at least four in four of them to leave the Blue Jackets still searching for their first playoff series victory.
It’s become old hat in Pittsburgh, which will have some time to rest before beginning the next step in its title defense.
NOTES: Columbus F Nick Foligno was scratched following pregame warmups due to a lower-body injury. … Pittsburgh finished 5-0 at home against the Blue Jackets this season, never trailing in any of the five games. … Rust has seven goals and one assist in nine career playoff elimination games. … Columbus went 1 for 3 on the power play. Pittsburgh was 2 for 4.