NHL Preview from The Sports Network
Wednesday, April 16th (All times Eastern)
Columbus Blue Jackets (0-0) at Pittsburgh Penguins (0-0), 7:30 p.m.
(SportsNetwork.com) - The Columbus Blue Jackets begin just the second playoff run in franchise history, as they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday for Game 1 of a best-of-seven series.
After getting swept in its lone playoff series, Columbus hopes to skate away with at least one victory in this opening round set despite being heavy underdogs against the Metropolitan Division champion Penguins.
The Blue Jackets, who entered the NHL as an expansion team for the 2000-01 campaign, didn't qualify for the postseason until 2009 when they lost all four games against Detroit in the first round. This time they enter the playoffs as the first wild card in the East and face a Pittsburgh team with the second- best record in the conference.
Pittsburgh swept the Blue Jackets in 2013-14, winning all five encounters in regulation. The Pens have claimed six straight and 10 of 12 in the series overall.
The Blue Jackets and Pens were division rivals for the first time in 2013-14, as Columbus moved from the Western Conference to the East as part of the NHL's realignment plan for this season.
Pens star Sidney Crosby racked up seven points (2g, 5a) in five meetings with the Blue Jackets this season. Pittsburgh's Chris Kunitz had six points on four goals and two assists, while James Neal added three goals and two helpers. Pens goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, meanwhile, went 3-0 with a 1.33 GAA in the season series.
Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson was the best point-producer in the season series for Columbus, posting three assists over the five losses. One bright spot for the Blue Jackets was that No. 1 goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky only faced Pittsburgh once in 2013-14, missing the other four encounters due to injury or illness.
On the other hand, Pittsburgh completely dominated the Jackets in special teams during the season series, going 5-for-19 on the power play while killing 13-of-14 penalties.
Pittsburgh cruised to a division title this season, taking the Metropolitan with 109 points -- 13 more than the second-place New York Rangers and a healthy Crosby was a big reason why. Crosby led the NHL in scoring with 104 points this season and is the leading candidate for the 2013-14 Hart Trophy.
Crosby's fellow star centerman Evgeni Malkin sat out the final 11 games of the regular season with a sprained foot, but he could be ready to go in Wednesday's Game 1.
A bigger question for Pittsburgh heading into the postseason is whether Fleury will struggle again in net. Fleury anchored Pittsburgh's Cup win in 2009, but he has looked awful in the postseason since then and was even demoted to backup last spring.
Fleury was replaced by Tomas Vokoun as the club's No. 1 goaltender after Game 4 of the opening round against the New York Islanders and did not start another game in the playoffs as Pittsburgh was eventually eliminated by Boston in a conference final sweep.
However, Pittsburgh is putting its faith in Fleury once again after he went 39-18-5 with a 2.37 goals against average and .915 save percentage during the 2013-14 regular season. In 80 games during his postseason career, Fleury is 45-34 with a 2.73 GAA and .903 save percentage.
"(I) remind myself I have one more Stanley Cup than a lot of people, so I know I can do it," Fleury said. "I think we have a solid team and I'll try my best to get to it again."
The key to the series for Columbus resides in the crease where Bobrovsky could give the Blue Jackets a considerable edge should Fleury get another case of the postseason yips. Bobrovsky won the Vezina last season and proved that campaign was no fluke in 2013-14, going 32-20-5 with a 2.38 GAA and .923 save percentage.
Bobrovsky has playoff experience from his time in Philadelphia, starting three postseason games while making relief appearances on four other occasions. He was 0-2 with a 4.04 GAA and .848 save percentage in those outings.
Pittsburgh, which also will host Game 2 on Saturday, was 28-9-4 at CONSOL Energy Center this season. Columbus was 21-17-3 as the visiting team.
04/16 10:35:46 ET