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Pens clinch playoff spot with 2-1 win

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Chris Kunitz and Beau Bennett scored goals 47 seconds apart midway through the third period and Marc-Andre Fleury made 35 saves and the Pittsburgh Penguins clinched a playoff spot with a 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night.

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James Wisniewski scored a power-play goal for Columbus with 3:06 left, with Pittsburgh hanging on as Fleury made huge saves on Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson during a scrum in the final seconds.

Curtis McElhinney, taking the place of the ill Sergei Bobrovsky, stopped the first 28 Penguins shots before Kunitz notched his 34th with 9:25 left.

The Blue Jackets came into the game in a four-way tie for a wild-card spot in the East.

After a chippy game with lots of hard checks and few great scoring chances, the Penguins finally broke through.

Sidney Crosby carried the puck through the neutral zone and slid a pass to Kunitz whose wrister from the top of the left circle avoided the outstretched stick of Wisniewski to beat McElhinney.

Before that goal could be announced to a capacity crowd of 18,908, Bennett skated with the puck up the left wing on a 2-on-1 break. He tucked a hard wrist shot inside the far post for his second of the season.

Bennett had missed the past 50 games after wrist surgery.

Wisniewski's goal reignited the fans - including a large contingent backing the Penguins - who roared while standing for most of the final minutes. With less than 10 seconds left, first Dubinsky and then Atkinson had shots from point-blank range that Fleury turned aside.

The Penguins, fourth in the NHL on the penalty kill, snuffed out three power plays in the opening period. There were several mini-scrums, a fight (Blue Jacket Nick Foligno vs. Robert Bortuzzo), some big hits and a couple of near goals.

James Neal's shot from the point was tipped by Kunitz, the puck deflecting off McElhinney and coming to rest atop the goal where it was blown dead.

Pittsburgh had the only three power plays in the second period, which also was scoreless. The Penguins failed to get a shot on goal in the last two, which were bridged by 4 seconds of 5 on 3.

The best scoring chance of the first two periods took place early in the second. On a 2-on-1 rush, Lee Stempniak's shot from the doorstep was stopped by McElhinney's left leg pad. Kunitz collected the puck and fired a shot that clanged off the crossbar. Crosby was all alone in the crease, but the puck ricocheted away before he could jam it into an empty net.

Notes: The Columbus Dispatch reported on Friday that the Blue Jackets are 29th in the 30-team NHL in attendance, drawing 14,347 per game. Despite a 23 percent increase in season-ticket sales to 8,600, attendance has actually dropped from last season (14,564). ... After a sunny, warm day in Columbus, a weatherman appearing on the monitors during the second intermission was loudly booed for predicting snow on Saturday.

---

Follow Rusty Miller on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/RustyMillerAP

Copyright 2017 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
Any commercial use or distribution without the express written
consent of STATS LLC and Associated Press is strictly prohibited.

  
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