EVGENI MALKIN and the Pittsburgh Penguins finally flexed their offensive muscles.
And they needed every bit of scoring they could muster.
Malkin had a hat trick and the Penguins almost blew a four-goal lead before holding off the Blue Jackets in Columbus last night, 4-3, to clinch their first-round playoff series in six games.
"It's more important that we win the game and [end] the series," Malkin said of the 10th time he's scored three times in a game in his career.
"Going into the second round now, you feel so much better when you have confidence. I hope in the next round I can score more."
Pittsburgh awaits the winner of the Flyers-Rangers series.
It's a good thing for the Penguins that Malkin - scoreless in his past nine playoff games including the first five in the series - finally found the net.
The Blue Jackets, closer to making tee times than thinking about a Game 7, scored three times in a 4:52 span in the third period to turn up the pressure on the Penguins, an overwhelming favorite before the series got under way.
"We're a proud group in here," Columbus forward Brandon Dubinsky said. "We didn't want to get embarrassed on home ice. If it was going to be our last game of the season, we didn't want to have any quit. We didn't have any quit in this locker room all season. We just kept pushing and pushing."
Brandon Sutter also scored before leaving with an injury and Matt Niskanen had two assists as the Penguins became the first team in the series to score first and win - but barely. Marc-Andre Fleury made 24 saves and made a couple of big stops after the game turned into a squeaker.
"It was a good test," he said of the wild last few minutes.
* At St. Paul, Minn., Zach Parise scored his second goal of the game with 6:29 left in the third period to snap a tie and lift Minnesota over Colorado, 5-2, forcing Game 7 in their Western Conference series.
* Jim Rutherford stepped down as general manager of the Carolina Hurricanes, and the team promoted Hall of Fame player Ron Francis to replace him.
In a series of moves, the Hurricanes also hired Mike Vellucci as assistant GM and director of hockey operations and promoted Brian Tatum to assistant general manager.
Rutherford, who also owns part of the team, will remain in an advisory role as team president. He assembled the teams that won one Stanley Cup, played for another and reached the Eastern Conference finals in 2009.
The Hurricanes haven't made the playoffs since then, the longest active drought in the East.
Francis, the former captain, holds team records with 382 goals, 793 assists and 1,186 games played.