Lack of finish almost costs Penguins

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COLUMBUS -- Maybe it was fitting that it ended with a wall of sound being thrown up by the Nationwide Arena faithful trying to will their plucky Columbus Blue Jackets to one more goal, one more miracle.

It didn't turn out that way, though, as the Pittsburgh Penguins, dominant in building a 4-0 lead through two periods, hung on for a 4-3 win that ended this oftentimes wild and wooly Eastern Conference quarterfinal in six games.

As the Blue Jackets watched the final seconds tick away, the crowd -- those not already standing -- rose as one to salute a team that surprised many, if not themselves.

And even as the two teams lined up to shake hands, signaling the end of hostilities, the chants of "C-B-J" continued to echo in the building.

"I think the guys stuck with it. We talked about a sense of pride, and I think the guys, everything they built this year earning people's trust and I think our fan's trust, coming out and finishing it the right way, and I think the fans were appreciative of it," Columbus coach Todd Richards said.

Richards was so sure that his team would complete yet another comeback and would be boarding a plane for Game 7 in Pittsburgh that he said he had no real words for his team at the end of its season.

"They're a great hockey team. They're a great hockey team," Richards said of the Penguins.

"They pushed the last two games. You could see. They've won. They know what it takes."

Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma, once hired by Richards as an assistant coach for the Penguins' AHL affiliate, called the Penguins' victories in Games 5 and 6 to close out the series two of the best games they'd played all year.

Well, for almost all of two games.

And if there is something fitting in the way this ended for the Penguins, it's a reminder of the danger in not finishing the job. As the Blue Jackets surged with three goals in 4:52 midway through the third, it was a lesson that no matter how much talent, how big a lead, the way to play at this time of the year is not to coast -- ever.

"I think we had to check our egos a little to match their intensity. The fans got wound up. It's a bad thing when you give up goal after goal after goal and the momentum it creates," said Chris Kunitz.

"But I think when it got 4-3 and they took their timeout with 1:50 left, I think I think we ended up still changing about five times getting guys on and off the ice trying to do whatever we could. That's kind of how the series went, though, for whatever reason. No one was ever putting a quit in anybody, and they were coming hard. They played a great series, they matched us well. We found a way to win a couple of extra games."

In some ways, the final two games of this series, games that came after Bylsma somewhat daringly challenged his team's commitment to work hard enough to earn wins in the playoffs, were one seamless entity -- a kind of two-act play, if you will.

After dominating the Blue Jackets in a 3-1 win on Saturday, Game 6 belonged to Evgeni Malkin.

The beleaguered Russian star, without a goal in his past nine playoff games heading into Monday, scored twice in the first period and added a third in the second period, prompting a smattering hats to be thrown onto the ice.

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