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COLUMBUS, Ohio – 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 Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 on Monday night to clinch their best-of-seven Eastern Conference 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 has scored three times in a game in his career.

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“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 New York-Philadelphia series, with the Rangers leading 3-2 entering Tuesday night’s Game 6 in Philadelphia.

It’s a good thing for the Penguins that Malkin — scoreless in his previous nine playoff games — finally found the net.

The Blue Jackets 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.

“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.”

Fedor Tyutin, Artem Anisimov and Nick Foligno scored for Columbus. Foligno’s redirect of a Tyutin shot cut the gap to a goal with 4:47 left.

Kings stay alive

LOS ANGELES – Justin Williams forced the tiebreaking goal underneath Alex Stalock with 8:04 to play, and the Los Angeles Kings beat the Sharks 4-1 to force a decisive Game 7 in their West first-round series Wednesday in San Jose.

Williams and Anze Kopitar each had two goals and an assist, and Jonathan Quick made 25 saves as the Kings became the ninth NHL team to force a seventh game after losing the first three.

Stalock stopped 26 shots in his first playoff start, and James Sheppard scored for the Sharks.

Three teams in league history have rallied from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.

Wild forces Game 7

ST. PAUL, Minn. – Zach Parise scored early and late on tipped shots, and the Minnesota Wild tacked on two empty-net goals for a 5-2 victory over the Colorado Avalanche that sent the first-round playoff series to a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday in Denver.

The Colorado-Minnesota series winner will take on the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference semifinals.

Parise scored just 49 seconds into the game and Mikael Granlund made it 2-0 later in the first period, but Colorado rallied and tied the score on Nick Holden’s goal in the second period.

Parise put the Wild ahead 3-2 with 6:29 remaining in the third period.

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