BRANDON SUTTER scored on a wrist shot from the left circle 8:18 into the third period, helping the Pittsburgh Penguins rally for a 4-3 victory over the visiting Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last night.
Beau Bennett and Matt Niskanen scored power-play goals 45 seconds apart in the second period, erasing Pittsburgh's two-goal deficit. Jussi Jokinen also scored for the Penguins and Marc-Andre Fleury overcame some shaky defense to stop 31 shots.
Jack Johnson, Mark Letestu and Derek Mackenzie scored for the Blue Jackets, who fell to 0-5 all-time in postseason games. Sergei Bobrovsky finished with 28 saves but was handcuffed by Sutter's knuckling wrister at the end of a 2-on-1 break.
"I think we expected a tight game," Sutter said after the third playoff goal of his career. "They got up and we stuck with it. It was a good win."
The Blue Jackets insisted they wouldn't be intimidated despite Pittsburgh's overwhelming edge in playoff experience and star power. The Penguins also swept the five regular-season meetings between the two teams.
It took Columbus all of a period to go out and prove it.
Johnson gave the Blue Jackets their first-ever postseason lead 6:20 into the game, charging to the front of the net and taking a feed from Brandon Dubinsky before beating Fleury with a beautiful deke from his forehand to his backhand.
The Penguins answered with 2:51 left in the first when Evgeni Malkin - returning after missing 3 weeks with a foot injury - took advantage of a turnover by Fedor Tyutin and hit Jokinen in the slot. The knuckling wrist shot sailed over Bobrovsky's right shoulder and Pittsburgh exhaled.
But only briefly.
With Pittsburgh defenseman Rob Scuderi off for interference, the Blue Jackets went back in front 2-1 when Letestu jammed home a rebound and sent Columbus soaring into the dressing room. The high only grew when the puck hopped over Kris Letang's stick and set Mackenzie loose for a breakaway that led to a shorthanded goal that pushed the advantage to 3-1 just 43 seconds into the second.
It took the league's top-ranked power play less than 2 minutes to even it.
"We have to learn from it but we found a way to win," Pittsburgh forward Sidney Crosby said. "Obviously we didn't start the way we wanted, getting down two goals. I think we have to clean up some things."
* At Tampa, Dale Weise scored 18:08 into overtime to give the Montreal Canadiens a 5-4 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening game of their Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff series.
Daniel Briere fed a pass to Weise from behind the net to set up the winner against Anders Lindback, who stopped 39 of 44 shots while filling in for injured goaltender Ben Bishop.
Carey Price stopped 21 shots for the Canadiens, who blew a pair of third-period leads. Brian Gionta had a shorthanded goal and Tomas Plekanec, Lars Eller and Thomas Vanek also scored for Montreal.
Steven Stamkos scored twice for Tampa Bay, including the goal that forced overtime.
* The Winnipeg Jets confirmed that Paul Maurice would be their head coach for the next 4 years.
Maurice took the Jets to an 18-12-5 record over 35 games after Claude Noel was fired.