Columbus Blue Jackets
For just the second time in the team’s history, and the first time in five years, the Columbus Blue Jackets have earned a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after it held on to the top wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Just as they were in their previous playoff appearance, they have the 7th seed. However, Columbus hopes to improve its luck this time around and get past the first round – or, at the very least, not get swept like they did when the Detroit Red Wings handed them an early exit in the 2009 playoffs. Perhaps ironically, the Blue Jackets are seeded one spot ahead of the Red Wings, who for a while seemed in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in over twenty years. It seems highly unlikely if not impossible for the two teams to face each other in this year’s playoffs, not the least because it would require both teams to come out triumphant against the top first through sixth seeds in the Eastern Conference, as well as some of the better teams in the league. With the reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in net, they have a fighting chance. But first thing’s first: to advance, Columbus would have to beat a team that it could not beat in five games throughout the regular season.
Although the dust has more or less settled after the controversy from the last game they played the Chicago Blackhawks, in which Brooks Orpik checked Jonathan Toews into the boards and out of the remaining regular season games, many Hawks fans may have forgiven but not forgotten, and will be looking for the Penguins to go down at the hands of an underdog. This may be easier said than done, because…well, Sidney Crosby, for starters. [Cue eye roll.] Yes, I know. And no, my name is not really Pierre. But not for nothing does “Sid the Kid” lead the league in points and assists, and is a favorite for the Hart Trophy this year. And the Pittsburgh’s goaltending isn’t too shabby either: with 39 wins, Marc-André Fleury is second only to Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche, with five of those 39 wins being shut outs. Yet Fleury has struggled in the playoffs in the past several seasons, and the team has not managed to make the Stanley Cup Finals since 2009, the last time they hoisted the Cup (and coincidentally, the last time their upcoming opponent made a playoff appearance).
Who will win?
This series may very well come down to a goaltending duel between Bobrovsky and Fleury. However, Penguins seem to have a slight edge, if for no other reason than some unfortunately-timed injuries for key Columbus personnel: Nathan Horton (whom Hawks fans will remember as a pesky former Bruin) had surgery in the last week of the regular season and will likely miss the whole postseason; Nick Foligno and RJ Umberger also missed the final week due to injury, and will not be on the ice for Game 1 this evening. However, don’t expect the Blue Jackets to go down without a fight. Even if Pittsburgh advances, it seems likely to take more than four games to do so – possibly even six or seven.
Game 1 Wednesday April 16 at Pittsburgh 7:30 p.m.
Game 2 Saturday April 19 at Pittsburgh 7 p.m.
Game 3 Monday April 21 at Columbus 7 p.m.
Game 4 Wednesday April 23 at Columbus 7 p.m.
*Game 5 Saturday April 26 at Pittsburgh TBD
*Game 6 Monday April 28 at Columbus TBD
*Game 7 Wednesday April 30 at Pittsburgh TBD
(Note: All times listed above are in EST. All games will be aired on NBCSN, FS-O, and ROOT.)