Regular season result: Pittsburgh (2-1-1)
Home ice advantage: Pittsburgh
By this time we are all well aware of the flawed playoff format that the NHL has recently implemented, but now this is a time when we see that it truly STINKS. 3 0f the league’s 4 best teams are all from the red-hot Metropolitan division and because of that, one team will not make it out of the first round. Having said that though, this should make for a fantastic series as the Blue Jackets, who have seemingly come out of nowhere this season, meet the Pittsburgh Penguins who are coming off a Stanley Cup winning campaign in 2016. Let’s take a look at who has the edge in this series:
To me, this is HUGE advantage for the Pens. Obviously, the Penguins have this guy named Sidney Crosby, might have heard of him? Crosby is fresh off a Richard-winning 2017 campaign and is poised for a great playoff run. But it doesn’t stop there. Add in guys like Geno Malkin, Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin who is reported to be back during the series, the Pens have the tools to put pucks in the net and also have guys who play a 200-foot game and have big bodies to knock guys off the puck. Now don’t get me wrong, Columbus has some incredible skill at forward as well. Brandon Saad is a guy who has proven to be a asset in the playoffs in his tenure with Chicago. Cam Atkinson is another guy who has kind of had a breakout year in terms of point production. Alex Wennberg has also proven to be a solid first line center. At the end of the day, the individual match-ups heavily favor the Penguins who have the skill and the experience that the Blue Jackets just don’t.
The Penguins suffered a monumental loss with Kris Letang going down in the final stretch of the regular season that is going to be very difficult to recover from. There’s still guys on the Pittsburgh blue-line who can get the job done, but Columbus has so much young talent like Calder-candidate Zach Werenski and Seth Jones who they got just last year in the swap for Ryan Johansen. Because of this, I think Columbus has enough back-end support to give them a slight edge on defense.
On paper, you wold think that the Jackets have a clear advantage in this department, but I disagree and here’s why. Sergei Bobrovksy has had a career year in almost every department, posting league highs in GAA (2.06) and SV% (.931). However, Pittsburgh just has so much offensive firepower that it’s kind of hard to imagine a scenario in which Pittsburgh is shut down for an entire playoff series. In the playoffs, Bobrovsky has a 2-6 record including getting absolutely LIT UP by who else but the Pittsburgh Penguins. While that doesn’t necessarily add any significance, it does show that Bobrovsky is vulnerable in the playoffs and it’s hard to see him carrying this momentum through the post-season. On the other end, you got Matt Murray who has shown he can be a stud when it counts, and they also have a great backup in Marc-Andre Fleury. A great goaltending matchup for sure, but don’t be surprised to see a lot of goals scored.
Prediction: Pittsburgh in 6
6 games sounds like a very reasonable outcome for a series of this caliber. Columbus has shown this year that they, in fact, are for real and are a threat. But they have fallen victim to the new playoff format and are matched up with a team that is simply better, especially considering the situation. Experience is so important in the playoffs, and the Penguins core has had experience as a unit which has an incredible impact. Pittsburgh is a team where all they need is one and then the goals just never end. They’re currently my favorite team coming out of the East and I expect to see them in the Stanley Cup Finals.
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