The Jackets win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday finalized it: the Columbus Blue Jackets will face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Playoffs. Now that the excitement from Wednesday’s clinch has died a bit, fans are starting to wonder if the Jackets will be able to rise to the occasion in the Playoffs this year. Despite going 0-5 against the Pens this season, there are many who believe the Jackets have a decent chance of pulling off this series.
The Jackets franchise is looking for its first-ever Playoff win this season, but it won’t come easy at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins. As mentioned, the Jackets have gone 0-5 against the Pens this season. A key to taking charge in the Playoffs is going to be forgetting that record, and moving on. The Jackets can’t play as if they are a #7 seed playing a #2 seed. They can’t play like they are against a team that they haven’t beat this season. They need to play like they did against Pittsburgh in the preseason this year. They had success then. Seems simple enough, but putting this season behind them is easier said than done.
There is hope, however. A lot of it rests with goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Everyone in Columbus knows how good he can be, and if he is at the top of his game, I think he has a good chance of stopping the Pittsburgh offense. In 15 periods against the Penguins this season, Bobrovsky played only one. He hasn’t had much of a chance to show what he can do against the likes of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.
Bobrovsky’s biggest challenge, as with the rest of the team, will be his post-season inexperience. It is all anyone is talking about when comparing these two teams, especially in goal. Bobrovsky will likely be pitted against Pittsburgh net-minder Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury has considerably more Playoff experience than Bobrovsky, but didn’t hold up in last season’s Playoffs. It will be interesting to see how much of a difference the goaltenders will make in this series. My guess is a big one.
In an ESPN article previewing this series, author Scott Burnside highlighted the “fatal flaws” of these two teams. The interesting part: they are opposites. The Penguins’ flaw is defense, and the Jackets’ is “offensive star-power”. The Pens obviously have offensive stars, and while the Jackets have gotten a spectacular performance from Ryan Johansen, they don’t have any big names. They do, however, have a pretty solid defense, with the return of rookie Ryan Murray. Murray has had a terrific rookie season, albeit cut short by injury. He has posted 21 points in 66 games, six more than Nikita Nikitin contributed in the same amount of games this season. Overall, the Pens are an offense-laden team, whereas the Jackets have a defense-heavy lineup.
There was another time we saw the Penguins’ explosive offense face a defense-heavy roster. Last year, in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Boston Bruins. That match-up did not go the way Pittsburgh fans had hoped. The Pens were swept in four short games by Boston last year, struggling to even put points on the board. Now, I’m not saying the Jackets have a lineup or defensive production comparable to Boston, but I do think it is worth noting that the Penguins have had trouble overcoming defense-heavy teams, which might be something the Jackets need to focus on going into this series.
Of course, you can’t win if you can’t score. You could have the Vezina-winning goalie and an All-Star defense, and still lose games if you don’t register some goals. The Jackets will have to find a way to put points on the board if they want to overcome their 0-5 record from this season. In my opinion, if Bobrovsky plays as well as we know he can, the defense is on top of things every night, and Ryan Johansen, Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky (to name a few) step up their scoring production, the Jackets could put up a good fight against the Pens.
For now, I’ll hold off on predictions and let you respond. How do you think this series will go? Vote below and let us know! And, as always, go Jackets!