Columbus, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - Evgeni Malkin finally broke out of his scoring slump, and the Pittsburgh Penguins at last put away the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Malkin potted his first three goals of this year's playoffs to stake the Penguins to a huge lead they very nearly gave away in Game 6 of this Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup, but the Metropolitan Division champs held off a furious late rally to hang on for a 4-3 victory and clinch the series.
Brandon Sutter also scored and Matt Niskanen contributed a pair of assists as Pittsburgh built a seemingly insurmountable 4-0 advantage through 2 1/2 periods, before the resilient Blue Jackets struck three times within a span of less than five minutes to place the outcome back in doubt.
Nick Foligno's successful redirection brought Columbus within one with 4:47 remaining, but the Blue Jackets' comeback attempt ultimately fell just short to enable Pittsburgh to move on to the conference semifinals, where it awaits the winner of the New York Rangers-Philadelphia series.
"We have a rivalry born between the Pens and Blue Jackets. They gave us everything we could handle," Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma remarked afterward.
Fedor Tyutin had a goal and an assist during Columbus' third-period surge, with Sergei Bobrovsky recording 24 saves in the season-ender.
Marc-Andre Fleury stopped 24 shots as well for the Penguins.
Playing in only the second playoff series in franchise history, the upstart Blue Jackets indeed gave the heavily favored Penguins all they could handle in splitting the first four matchups before Pittsburgh delivered its most impressive performance of the set in Game 5, a 3-1 decision in which it owned a lopsided 51-24 shot advantage.
Columbus did so in this one as well, though the game resembled nothing other than an all-out rout after the Penguins thoroughly dominated through 50 minutes of play.
Bylsma's insertion of Malkin alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on the top line played a large role in Saturday's triumph, and the trio made an impact once more during an opening period in which Pittsburgh recorded 15 of the first 18 shots.
Kunitz won a battle for the puck in the Columbus zone with around nine minutes elapsed to set up Malkin's first goal, a clean close-range shot from the right circle that rocketed past a defenseless Bobrovsky.
Malkin struck again on Pittsburgh's initial power-play opportunity, granted by a roughing call on Foligno with 7:20 left in the frame. After taking a right- side feed from Crosby, the star forward rifled a wrister into the top left corner of the Columbus net for a 2-0 Penguins' lead.
The Blue Jackets began the second period with a 5-on-4 advantage, but quickly found themselves in a further hole. Moments after the Penguins killed off the penalty, Sutter blocked a dump-in attempt by James Wisniewski to create a breakaway he finished with a backhander past Bobrovsky 33 seconds into the stanza.
Malkin finished off his second career postseason hat trick by converting a 2- on-1 with James Neal 4:38 prior to the second intermission. Pittsburgh went into cruise-control mode from there, however, and Columbus began to reverse the momentum by getting a much-needed lift from its penalty-killing unit.
A Penguins' turnover while on a power play midway through the third period turned into Tyutin's shorthanded tally, a right-circle snapper off a Matt Calvert give that sprung the Blue Jackets back to life.
Columbus drew closer when Artem Anisimov's long drive got by a well-screened Fleury with 6:06 left, and it was suddenly a 4-3 game after Foligno deflected a Tyutin blast between Fleury's pads just 79 seconds following Anisimov's score.
"After we (got the third goal), I really felt like anything could happen," said Blue Jackets head coach Todd Richards.
The Blue Jackets continued to pressure the Pittsburgh zone over the final few minutes, but managed just one more shot on goal as the Penguins packed in their defense to thwart a nearly momentous comeback.
"Obviously we didn't want to make it as close as we did, but we found a way," said Crosby. "We found a way to win."
Sutter did not return after sustaining an apparent leg injury in the second period, while Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale and Columbus' Blake Comeau both left following a collision early in the third ... Malkin's other postseason hat trick occurred against Carolina in Game 2 of the 2009 East Finals, and tonight's was the first by a Penguin in a playoff game since Neal scored three times against Ottawa in Game 5 of last year's conference semis ... The team that had scored first and led after the opening period had lost each of the previous five games of the series ... The Penguins are now 9-3 on the road during the Crosby/Malkin era (since 2006-07) when they have a chance to clinch a series.