PITTSBURGH (AP) — The reeling Pittsburgh Penguins had one last chance to put together a complete game and gain some confidence before the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Penguins, losers of eight of their previous 12 games coming in, responded with a first-period blitz that carried them to a much-needed win.
Evgeni Malkin scored his 20th goal of the season and had an assist, and the Penguins beat the Columbus Blue Jackets 5-3 Friday night in the season finale to clinch third place in the Metropolitan Division.
Kris Letang, Brian Boyle, Evan Rodrigues and Marcus Pettersson also scored for the Penguins (46-25-11), who will open the Stanley Cup playoffs next week at the New York Rangers. Pittsburgh began the day one point ahead of Washington, which lost to the Rangers.
“It’s playoff time now,” Rodrigues said. “It’s a whole different ballgame … a whole different mentality. It’s a clean slate and we’ll go from there.”
Casey DeSmith, starting for the fifth time in six games with All-Star goalie Tristan Jarry out indefinitely with a foot injury, stopped 33 shots. The Penguins beat the Blue Jackets for the 15th time in 19 meetings dating back to Feb. 3, 2017. Pittsburgh also won its 11th straight at home against Columbus dating back to Dec. 21, 2015.
“I really liked our energy,” Penguins’ coach Mike Sullivan said. “When you get a three-goal lead, that puts our team in a good spot.”
Oliver Bjorkstrand had a goal for the fourth straight game for Columbus (37-38-7), and Gustav Nyquist and Justin Danforth also scored. Jakub Voracek had two assists and now has 800 for his career. The Blue Jackets scored a franchise-best 257th goal this season, but lost for the sixth time in their last eight games.
J-F Berube started in goal for Columbus and gave up three goals on eight shots in the first 6 1/2 minutes. He was replaced by Elvis Merzilikins, who had 40 saves the rest of the way.
“This was going to be a tough game,” Blue Jackets’ coach Brad Larsen said. “But you look at the amount of guys we had out of our lineup, the guys that played tonight, they played hard.”
Pittsburgh scored three times in the opening 6:26, outshooting the Blue Jackets 8-0.
Malkin opened the scoring at 3:51 when he put his own rebound behind Berube from the top of the crease.
On Pittsburgh’s second goal at 5:31, Berube came out to poke away a loose puck. However, Rodrigues was on the doorstep and put a shot between Berube’s pads for a 2-0 lead.