COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Penguins have a roster full of players who appeared in white-knuckle, high-stakes games at least twice a week for two straight months at the end of last season.

When they got into their first tight game this postseason, it would be reasonable to expect a player forged under those fires to be the hero.

Not this time.

Instead it was Jake Guentzel, a 22-year-old rookie who was just wrapping up his junior year of college while most of his teammates were starting a Stanley Cup run at this time last year.

Guentzel completed a hat trick 13 minutes, 10 seconds into overtime Sunday to give the Penguins a 5-4 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 3 of their first-round series at Nationwide Arena.

The Penguins have a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and can complete the sweep Tuesday night in Columbus.

“What a game,” Guentzel said. “Fun to be a part of it.”

The Penguins’ Bryan Rust watches a shot by Evgeni Malkin get past Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in the second period Sunday, April 16, 2017, at Nationwide Arena. For more images from Game 3, visit the Trib’s photo gallery.

Photo by Chaz Palla

 

Guentzel said he was a little anxious and nervous before the overtime began, but if that was the case, he hid it well.

Guentzel’s teammates have marvelled at his maturity since he first came up from the minors. Evgeni Malkin said he knew Guentzel was something special when he scored on his first NHL shot in his first NHL game in November.

“He’s like a really smart guy,” Malkin said. “He has an unbelievable shot. He’s quick.”

On the winning goal, Guentzel said he was looking for a soft spot in the defense while linemates Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary worked the puck behind the net. When Crosby slipped out a perfect pass, Guentzel buried it from just below the left hash marks.

“I think it’s really important to gain confidence as you go along, but no one can prepare you for the playoffs,” Crosby said. “He’s had the right mentality coming in. He wants to contribute. He’s not just happy to be here. He’s shown that he’s willing to go to those tough areas. He’s willing to do what it takes. He’s burying his chances. It’s great to see. You’re happy for him to see him do well at an age like that.”

The overtime goal capped off a game filled with wild momentum swings.

When Guentzel and Brandon Dubinsky traded goals in the second half of the third period, with the Penguins taking a 4-3 edge and the Blue Jackets tying it back up, it probably wasn’t even the most dramatic stretch of the night.

That might have been the first 10 minutes of the first period, when the Blue Jackets threw their best punch of the series.

Cam Atkinson cashed in the rebound of a Brandon Dubinsky shot 11 seconds into the game and took advantage of a missed connection between Sheary and Crosby in the defensive zone to net his second goal about five minutes later. When Zach Werenski scored on the power play a minute after that, it was 3-1.

“We talk about the first 10 minutes. We talk a lot before the game,” Malkin said. “First shift they score. Five minutes (later), they score. But we know it’s playoffs. You score one goal and it changes the moment.”

In the second period, the Penguins grabbed control of the game with a pair of goals.

Bryan Rust scored the first. The second was controversial. With about seven minutes left in the period, Malkin made a cross-crease pass that landed on Brandon Saad’s stick on the doorstep. Just as it arrived, Rust slapped the back of Saad’s blade to knock the puck across the goal line. Malkin was credited with the goal.

While that was going on, a bleeding Werenski was dragging himself up off the ice after taking a puck to the face. The Blue Jackets, and especially their fans, were incensed that referees did not stop play for Werenski’s safety.

“It just shows the resiliency and the character of this group,” Rust said, “to keep battling and stay focused and know that if we play our game, that’s going to give us the best chance to win.”

Jonathan Bombulie is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jbombulie@tribweb.com or via Twitter at @BombulieTrib.