Pens and Blue Jackets open up first round.
By Steve Samek.
82 Games led up to this. It’s the NHL playoffs. In the first round, it’s the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Columbus Blue Jackets. It’s a revenge matchup from 2014 when The Penguins dispatched Columbus in six games.
During the course of the year each team went 2-1-1 against each other. Though the Penguins used some better play in the last 21 games of the season to best Columbus after being tied at 86 points through 61 games. The Penguins produced a 12-6-3 record while Columbus went 11-8-2. Giving the Penguins the two seed and home ice in the first round. Worth noting is the Pens beat the Jackets 4-1 in Pittsburgh the last time these teams met on April 4th,2017.
Why the Pens lose. Defense and injuries. The loss of Kris Letang will hurt a lot. https://www.nhl.com/player/kris-letang-8471724
As will the rotating carousel of defenders the Penguins used this season. This could put stress on the goaltenders and led to disaster.
Though the Goalies should be able to hold their own. Even if Matt Murray starts over Marc-Andre Fleury. Murray went 32-10-4 this season with a 2.41 goals against average and .923 save percentage, which was eighth best in the league. http://www.nhl.com/stats/leaders
Fleury backed him up going 18-10-7 this season with a 3.02 gaa and .909 save percentage in 38 games with 34 starts. https://www.nhl.com/player/marc-andre-fleury-8470594.
Columbus also has a strong goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky went 41-17-5 with a 2.06 gaa and .931 save percentage, which was the league leader in save percentage and gaa. https://nhl.bamcontent.com/images/photos/288645940/1224×3672/cut.jpg. Bobrovsky was also number two in the league win wins behind Braden Holtby and Cam Talbot. http://www.nhl.com/stats/leaders.
Though NHL goal leader Sidney Crosby and his 44 tallies are shooting at him. As is Evgeni Malkin and his 33 goals and Phil Kessel and Connor Shery with 23 goals apiece. The Penguins offense is definitely enough to give any goalie nightmares even the best in the league. https://nhl.bamcontent.com/images/photos/288645940/1224×3672/cut.jpg
I think experience will also play a role in this series. The Penguins are coming off a cup run. Columbus hasn’t made the playoffs sense 2014. The Pens have also made the playoffs 11 years in a row with two cup wins and another finals appearance. It’s just hard to beat the experience and winning tradition the Penguins have. https://www.nhl.com/news/pittsburgh-penguins-columbus-blue-jackets-playoff-preview/c-288633648?tid=287343212.
I think home ice for the Pens will help too. The last two times these teams played in Pittsburgh The Pens won. The trend for the season series is the home team winning, so if the trend stays its Pens 4-3. Both teams play well at home though with the Blue Jackets sporting a 28-12-1 mark at home, while Pittsburgh is 31-6-4. I would say that’s a home ice advantage for sure. https://nhl.bamcontent.com/images/photos/288645940/1224×3672/cut.jpg
I would say that Columbus is on the upswing, and would win a playoff series if given a better match up. They finished third in a tough Metropolitan division. If the current system wasn’t in place they don’t have a harder first round matchup than they deserve. Though the weaker stretch run than the Pens have put them in the position to win from the lower seed. Though I wouldn’t count it as an upset if the Blue Jackets win.
They won’t however. I’m taking the Pens in six games to win the series. Offense and a solid two goalie system with experience in the playoffs paying off.