2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round Prospectus: Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Take off your glasses and check your chiclets for this one. Someone’s probably going to lose a tooth or five in this series.
Columbus Blue Jackets (3rd/Metropolitan) vs. Pittsburgh Penguins (2nd/Metropolitan)
Columbus has had the Pens’ number this season. One of the reasons why is that this is the best team coach John Tortorella has had since his final season with the New York Rangers in terms of skill and depth. Eternal Sidney Crosby nemesis Brandon Dubinsky is waiting in the wings to take Crosby off his game. Can he do so without costing Jackets more than benefiting them? Remains to be seen. How effective will Evgeni Malkin be? Will they get Carl Hagelin back at full go? The Pens, to their credit, did not lose much in the way of productivity with the numerous injuries they’ve had across the board, but large number of AHL-level players they have featured in the past month are not playoff tested; particularly against an equally skilled, speedy and more physical team like Columbus.
Sergei Bobrovsky will likely win the Vezina Trophy for the second time after this season. He deserves it, if he does. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski (whose health is up in the air after taking a nasty, but clean hit from Alex Ovechkin) have formed a formidable pairing for “Torts.” Columbus has been one of the best defensive teams all season, and generate a good deal of offence from their defence, as well. They can frustrate the Penguins, for sure. Outside of Werenski, you know what you are getting from Brandon Saad, Nick Foligno, and Alex Wennberg. The Pens will definitely look to utilize last change at home to keep Crosby away from the Dubinsky-centred line featuring Boone Jenner and leading goal-scorer Cam Atkinson. Wennberg cannot manhandle Crosby the way Dubinsky can. Keep an eye out for these line changes.
Photo Credit: SportsNet.
Wild Bill Karlsson is not known to most casual fans, but he forms a line with the aforementioned Anderson and Matt Calvert. They cannot be overlooked. They play a heavy forechecking game, which is Tortorella’s calling card; particularly for his depth guys. When it comes to the third line, Sam Gagner and Scott Hartnell are playoff tested. Will Oliver Bjorkstrand be ready?
Bobrovsky is better than Matt Murray, who still gets beat quite often on his glove side and high, which was noted during last year’s playoffs. Columbus knows this.
Kris(topher) Letang’s injury may be too much for the Pens to overcome. He generates and helps sustain so much for the Pens, particularly on the power play. Pittsburgh is less flash and more meat and potatoes and staid on the blue line without him. It will ultimately be the difference in a grinding, physical series of sheer will. Crosby may be the best player in the league (and won’t continue to be for much longer), but he can’t do it all alone.
Call: COLUMBUS IN 6.