PITTSBURGH -- The challenge was starkly simple for the Pittsburgh Penguins: prove you are better than you've shown.
Prove you can play hard for more than a few minutes at a time, prove you aren't being suffocated by the weight of expectation, failure and miscues, or, worse, prove you aren't so self-absorbed that you merely expect to win as a matter of course.
If they do that, the Penguins regain control of this opening-round series against the relentless Columbus Blue Jackets and maybe regain control of their own playoff destiny.
In the end, the Penguins rose to the challenge, turning in their most inspired, complete performance of the postseason with a 3-1 victory, which gives them a 3-2 series lead over the Blue Jackets with Game 6 set for Monday night in Columbus, Ohio.
The final score illustrated just how different this game was from the first four of the series. During each of those games, the losing team wasted 3-1 leads and, in fact, the team scoring first has now lost all five games in the series. The Penguins' loss in Game 4, in which they actually led 3-0, led head coach Dan Bylsma to somewhat shockingly question his team's effort, competitive and battle levels.
"We weren't happy with how we played the first four games. We weren't consistent enough. Today we worked really hard. We need to remember how hard we worked tonight and how much we paid the price. We just kept coming after them. We all know they're going to be better Monday, and we need [to be] playing the same way we played tonight," offered Jussi Jokinen, who scored the winner early in the third period when a loose puck came to him at the side of the Columbus net after a long period of sustained Pittsburgh pressure.
Instead of the blown leads, wild ebbs and flows in emotion and puck control that had marked the first four games, Saturday's game saw a much more dedicated Pittsburgh team handle a youthful Columbus team in the manner many believed they would throughout this series.
Although the Jackets scored first on the power play with Boone Jenner finding a loose puck after netminder Marc-Andre Fleury couldn't get his catching glove on a rebound in front of the net, the Penguins dominated pace of play and puck possession.
They outshot the Blue Jackets 21-8 in the second period and tied the game on a Chris Kunitz power-play goal, the second straight game in which the Canadian Olympian has scored.
By the end of the game, the Penguins had launched 51 shots at the Columbus net, and Blue Jackets netminder Sergei Bobrovsky had by far his finest game of the series.
"There's no question we knew they were going to come out harder and more physical and compete harder. When your coach calls you out, it's expected," Columbus forward R.J. Umberger said.
"It was kind of tilted a lot of the game."
Columbus forward (and former Penguin) Mark Letestu said they were aware of the drama surrounding Bylsma's comments heading into Game 5, and it's clear the Pens responded.
"They were consistently coming in waves all night tonight. We didn't give Bob [Bobrovsky] enough tonight. He played great," Letestu said.
"We've got to find a way to get more."