Familiar foes meet in round one of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. In what could be the best series of the opening round, the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins will meet for a seven game battle that is sure to be bruising and incredibly entertaining.
Previewing The Penguins (50-21-11, 111 PTS):
The Penguins are coming off of their second best regular season in team history. After dealing with lots of injuries and a test of depth of nearly 3/4 of their AHL roster, they were able to keep pace and finish second in the Metropolitan.
They are only getting hot at the right time.
With guys like Olli Maatta, Trevor Daley, Jake Guentzel, and Bryan Rust back in the lineup, that’s great news. To hear that Evgeni Malkin and Matt Murray will be available to the Penguins in game one is just as nice.
Murray’s goaltending will need to be very solid without Letang’s 30-minute output on the blue line. He’s almost certain to face upwards of 30 shots a game and will need to be sharp to defeat a good Columbus squad that has never won a playoff series in their history.
Captain Sidney Crosby led the NHL in goals this year and was the runner up in point to Edmonton’s Connor McDavid. He will be the best player on the ice when the team’s meet so he will need to step up and begin his quest for back to back Stanley Cup’s and Conn Smythe’s.
Crosby and Malkin’s production will be needed slightly more due to the volume of Letang’s injury. Look for the Penguins to use speed to their advantage with the hopes of getting Carl Hagelin back on top of their already lightning fast lineup.
Previewing The Blue Jackets (50-24-8, 108 PTS):
The Blue Jackets are hungry. The Penguins have bullied them for far too long and they are so sick of losing to the Penguins. Especially when it counts. No year has ever been more likely that they could finally win that first playoff series in franchise history. They’d love nothing more than for the losing team to be Pittsburgh.
Columbus is a physical team but they can score. They didn’t have a player over 62 points (Cam Atkinson lead the team with 62) but they also only had two full time players finish with a negative +/-.
Much of their success falls on the shoulders of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the likely Vezina Trophy winner this season.
He’s posted some insane numbers and will be a key factor in shutting down the league’s highest scoring goals/game in the league.
Defensively, the two main cogs for Columbus are Seth Jones and rookie Zach Werenski. These guys have helped Bobrovsky and have contributed in ways offensively making Columbus a threat from all angles.
Their only downfall will be their penalty killing structure. They allow a lot of shots on penalty kills and make sure Bobrovsky sees the puck instead of screening their own goalie. For a physical team, they’re bound to take a lot of penalties and letting Bobrovsky face high volumes of shots, especially on the PK is going to spell doom for Columbus.
Matchups To Watch For
- Dubinsky vs. Crosby: This individual rivalry has been brewing for years. The cross check to the back of the neck of Crosby from Dubinsky will always be remembered and for good reason. The pesky Dubinsky will have to shut down Crosby defensively in a seven game series. While Dubinsky has an early edge due to his ability to get under the skin of Crosby, he likely can’t stay on Crosby for the full series without being worn down by Sid’s skill and speed. This will be an intriguing matchup that Sullivan would be wise to try and stay away from with the advantage of last change in the first two games.
- Bobrovsky vs. Murray: These guys have come up huge for their teams. Bobrovsky is likely going to win the Vezina. He is a much bigger reason that Columbus did what they did this season than Murray is for the Penguins. It’s only because of the Penguins ability to light up the net. The Blue Jackets don’t have nearly the offensive producting the Penguins do. This means Murray doesn’t have to be as good for the Penguins to win. Bobrovsky might be the only hope for Columbus in the series.
- Evgeni Malkin (will play game 1)
- Chris Kunitz (status undetermined)
- Chad Ruhwedel (status undetermined)
- Carl Hagelin (“real chance he plays this series”)
- Kris Letang (IR-Done for year)
- Zach Werenski (will play game 1)
- Lukas Sedlak (could play this series)
- Ryan Murray (could play this series)
- David Clarkson (IR- career threatening)
Prediction: With the home ice advantage, I can see Pittsburgh jumping on Columbus and taking an early 2-0 series lead. Crosby and Malkin will have to step up for Pittsburgh as Columbus’ physical game will surely have it’s effect on the outcome of the series. I will give Columbus the split at home making it 3-1 heading to game five. Columbus wins game 5 in overtime to make the series interesting but the Penguins close it out in game six behind a two goal performance from Sidney Crosby. Penguins in six.