Lack of finish almost costs Penguins

In between, Brandon Sutter reinforced his status as the team's unofficial first-round MVP by scoring on a breakaway 34 seconds into the second period to extend the Penguins' lead to 3-0 just as Lee Stempniak was coming back on the ice after a late first-period penalty.

It was Sutter's third goal of the series, and his absence was keenly felt when he left the game after blocking a shot in the second period.

In fact, captain Sidney Crosby suggested that the loss of Sutter and later Joe Vitale added to some of the confusion in the third period as the Blue Jackets mounted their comeback.

Still, playing without veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik for a second straight game thanks to an undisclosed injury, the Penguins were for the most part solid in their own zone. And when netminder Marc-Andre Fleury was tested, as he was on a break by Derek MacKenzie late in the first period after a Craig Adams giveaway, he was cool and sharp.

Since his faux pas-times-two at the end of Game 4 that allowed Columbus to win in overtime after the Pens had built a 3-0 lead, Fleury has found a playoff comfort zone.

Although he gave up a short-handed goal to Fedor Tyutin, the third short-handed goal of the series for the Blue Jackets, Fleury looked calm and in control even as the game got close in the final minutes. He stopped 24 of 27 shots Monday as the Blue Jackets outshot Pittsburgh 20-12 over the last two periods.

As noted, Crosby still hasn't scored in 11 postseason games, and no doubt he'll be asked about it when the Penguins face off in the second round against either the Philadelphia Flyers or the New York Rangers. But he did collect his sixth assist of the series on Malkin's second goal, and Crosby's hard work along the boards set the stage for Malkin's first even though he didn't register an assist on the play.

"I thought we found our game a lot more the last two games. And played the way we need to. We were on our toes. I think it's one thing to say it, it's another thing to go out there and see it and play that way. We did that here the last couple. That's good. We've got to build off it. I think the playoffs, you have to get better as they go along, and I think we did that here," Crosby said.

Winger James Neal said he could see Malkin's confidence grow after he scored his first and expects a similar coming out party for Crosby at some point in the near future.

"When [Malkin] got that first one, you could see it -- it helps you, it builds your confidence," Neal said. "You know how badly he wanted to score. He got that one off his back and he took over the game, so we need that from him, and you know Sid's going to have a breakout game just the same. Those guys were great all night for us."

He believes the lessons learned from this tough series will be valuable this spring.

"We knew they'd come out hard. But we were on every puck, we were winning every battle," Neal said. "I know we were doing that until the last 10 minutes of the game, but you can't overlook how strong we played throughout the whole game. We need to continue to do that. We'll definitely look back, we definitely learned from this series, and that's what you've got to do if you want to win. You've got to learn from these series and mature and continue to get better."

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