The Columbus Blue Jackets will go into their series against the Pittsburgh Penguins as the underdog, but can they find a way to halt Sidney Crosby and the Penguins’ hunt for a second successive Stanley Cup?
Columbus had a solid year, finishing third in what was a very tough Metropolitan Division with a 50-24-8 record. however, their less than spectacular end to the season leaves a few unanswered questions going into the series which gets underway in Pittsburgh on Wednesday (7:30 pm ET).
Which Blue Jackets will turn up?
Through the first half of the season, the Blue Jackets led the league on the power play, posting a 25.8% conversion rate (32-for-124) through their first 41 games. In the second half of the season, they converted just 11.5% of chances (10-for-87) leaving them last on the power play for the period between January 14th to the end of the regular season. The upshot of that, they finished 12th overall with 19.9% conversion.
During the regular season, the Blue Jackets had a 16-game winning streak which equates to the second longest in history, but they won just 11 of their last 22 games, scoring 50 goals in the process. Their top point producers also cooled off somewhat. Alex Wennberg posted seven points in his last 20 games, with Cam Atkinson and Brandon Saad posting nine and 10 respectively. Whether or not the Jackets can get these players firing again could have a huge bearing on how the series pans out.
Can Bobrovsky keep his stellar play going?
Sergei Bobrovsky had another outstanding year, posting 41 wins with a 2.06GAA and .931SV%.
He’ll no doubt be in the running for the Vezina Trophy, but his playoff record may come as a concern. In his previous post-season games Bobrovsky has a 2-6 record with a 3.50GAA and .890SV%. He’ll need a big improvement on that if he’s to help the Blue Jackets through this round and beyond.
Can Dubinsky get to Sid?
It’s fairly well documented that Brandon Dubinsky has had some success in getting to Sidney Crosby in the past. Indeed, back in 2015 things boiled over to the point where both players ended up dropping the gloves. Dubinsky was handed a one-game ban after cross-checking Crosby in the neck a few months later. These two have faced off 11 times in playoff games, and Crosby is yet to find the net. If Columbus can get Dubinsky on the ice at the same time, could he be the key to shutting down one of the NHL’s brightest stars?
If the answer to all of these questions is “Yes” then the Blue Jackets will most certainly prove a tough opponent for the Penguins. They ranked well in both Goals Scored (6th with 247) and Goals Against (2nd with 193)so will have every right to be confident of causing something of an upset. The Penguins, who finished as the league’s leading scorers with 278 Goals, will be buoyed by the news that Evgeni Malkin will be ready to play in Game 1 after missing the past 13 games with an upper-body injury.
Penguins in 6. Although I can see the Blue Jackets making a series of it, I think that the Penguins’ offense will be too strong when it comes down to the crunch. I’m backing Sid and his boys to see off the Blue Jackets when they meet in Columbus for Game 6.
G1 Wed., April 12 Columbus @ Pittsburgh, 7:30 p.m. ET
G2 Fri., April 14 Columbus @ Pittsburgh, 7 p.m. ET
G3 Sun., April 16 Pittsburgh @ Columbus, 6 p.m. ET
G4 Tues., April 18 Pittsburgh @ Columbus, 7:30 p.m. ET
G5* Thurs., April 20 Columbus @ Pittsburgh, TBD
G6* Sun., April 23 Pittsburgh @ Columbus, TBD
G7* Tues., April 25 Columbus @ Pittsburgh, TBD
Want to check out the Penguins side of series? Check it out here!