Fifty-one games had gone by since the last time Beau Bennett had scored a goal, and that's quite a drought for a top-six forward.

Bennett had a pretty good excuse, though: He hadn't dressed for 50 of those games while recovering from a hand/wrist injury that had to be surgically repaired.

The layoff didn't show, however, when he finally got back in the lineup Friday night.

Bennett not only scored the winning goal in the Penguins' 2-1 victory against Columbus at Nationwide Arena, but also crammed a lot of quality hockey into 14 minutes and 51 seconds of ice time.

He played without a hint of concern for his injury, delivering and absorbing hits throughout the game. Indeed, he was credited with four, just one off the team lead, and was effective all over the ice.

"That was a real strong game from Beau, real authoritative," coach Dan Bylsma said. "I thought one of the better games I've seen him play."

It came at a good time, too, because the Penguins had lost their previous three games and had been stuck on 1 as a magic number for getting into the playoffs for several days.

Bennett's goal was the one that clinched their spot in the postseason, and, while there hadn't been any doubt about the Penguins [47-22-5] qualifying since sometime last autumn, they seemed pleased to get that formality out of the way.

"Obviously, you need to get in, at some point," forward Craig Adams said. "We'd whiffed on a few opportunities recently."

It wasn't clear for much of the evening that they'd nail down their spot against the Blue Jackets, either.

Neither team scored until 10:35 of the third period, when Chris Kunitz took a cross-ice feed from Sidney Crosby and beat Blue Jackets goalie Curtis McElhinney from the top of the left circle.

The large contingent of Penguins fans in Nationwide still was celebrating that goal when, 47 seconds later, Bennett threw a shot past McElhinney from inside the right circle to cap a two-on-one break with Jussi Jokinen and put an exclamation on a wildly successful comeback game.

"I was thinking [of shooting] low blocker, once [the Columbus defenseman] took the pass away, because if he saved it, [the rebound] would have popped out to [Jokinen], maybe," Bennett said. "Luckily, it went in."

Still, the Blue Jackets, who entered the game in a four-team tie for the two Eastern Conference wild-card playoff berths, didn't wilt after the Penguins took their two-goal lead.

Columbus had competed with genuine desperation from the earliest shifts -- "They're fighting for their playoff spot, and they played exactly the way we expected them to," Adams said -- but the Penguins matched the Blue Jackets' effort throughout the game.