Columbus Blue Jackets at Pittsburgh Penguins - 4/16/14
Columbus Blue Jackets (43-32-7) at Pittsburgh Penguins (51-24-7)
NHL Hockey: Wednesday, April 16, 2014 at 7:30 pm (Consol Energy Centre)
The Line: Pittsburgh Penguins -195 / Columbus Blue Jackets +177 --- Over/Under: 5.5 See the Latest Odds
Heading into the post season with 51 victories under their belts and finishing the year with the second most points in the Eastern Conference it would be easy to think that the Pittsburgh Penguins have already had a successful year. Anyone who has followed this hockey club over the last few years however knows that their season has really just begun. Since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009 the Penguins have lost in the conference semifinals once, been upset in the opening round twice, and last year were swept in humiliating fashion by the Boston Bruins in the conference finals. Through all of these disappointing finishes their have been some key characters that remain in the fold. Head coach Dan Bylsma is still behind the bench but the odds of him surviving another early round exit with a team that played this well during the regular season seems slim. Marc-Andre Fleury's struggles in goal in the post season have been well documented and it will be a tremendous challenge for him this season to find a way to fight through things mentally. Fleury has elite talent for a goaltender but the stage appears to have gotten too big for him lately. It's hard to understand considering how well he played in goal when the team won the Stanley Cup five years ago. On the surface this looks like a great matchup for the Penguins who have defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets all five times the clubs have met this year. There's no way that Columbus can match up with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and now that Kris Letang is back it gives the Penguins another weapon in this series. But if Fleury gives up a couple of early goals in this series, especially if they're bad goals, the wheels could come off the cart rather quickly. Bylsma hasn't been able to address his team's defensive woes in the playoffs that last few years and while the Blue Jackets aren't going to scare anyone talent wise they can still cause a lot of problems for a club that isn't always disciplined in their own zone. We know the Penguins are going to score goals, especially if they can draw power play opportunities, but whether or not they're going to survive this series and beyond is going to be all about how they take care of their own end. The Penguins haven't been able to do that for years now, so we'll see if this season is any different.
In Columbus the Blue Jackets are still looking for their first ever playoff victory. The Blue Jackets have been to the post season just once in the franchise's 13 year history, and they were swept in four guys by the Detroit Red Wings five years ago. Columbus has recorded the most wins in franchise history this season and they have started to build an identity under second year head coach Todd Richards. The loss of Rick Nash ultimately cost previous general manager Scott Howson his job, but it might have been the best thing that ever happened to this club. Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov have brough a strong work ethic to this club that was missing, and now some of the younger players they've started to bring up are buying in. Ryan Johansen is one of the most talented young forwards in the league and Columbus is going to need him to keep scoring in his first taste of the post season. There aren't enough guys on the ice for the Blue Jackets that can match up with Pittsburgh talent wise, so this is going to take a complete team effort if they're going to upset the Penguins. Sergei Bobrvosky gives them a punchers chance in goal and he's proven he can carry a team on his back. Much like how it will be telling to see how the Penguins play in their own end the same can be said for Columbus who will be looking to shut down a potent Penguins offense with an underwhelming group of defenseman. Columbus will need their forwards to help out constantly in the defensive zone and for a club that already has trouble scoring goals it might make things even more difficult in the transition game for them to create chances.
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There's just so mething about this Blue Jackets club that gives you the impression that they're going to make this series interesting somehow. It's hard to quantify it because there's little reason to believe they'll be able to match Pittsburgh's firepower. With Fleury in goal however if this hard working group can just find a way to get in his head early and outwork the Penguins, there's a good chance they can take this series pretty far. Pittsburgh isn't going to enjoy being hit by everyone on every shift, and that's exactly what they're going to get from the drop of the puck on Wednesday night. Not going to take Pittsburgh on the money line considering the number and there's a good chance the Blue Jackets keep the games in this series close.