By John Toperzer
The playoffs are all about matchups and goaltending. Columbus — check. Marc-Andre Fleury — question mark.
As it stands, Game 1 of the Penguins-Blue Jackets is important, everyone knows that. The series could turn into a classic set-up if Pittsburgh isn’t careful, however.
On paper, just about every area of play favors the Penguins. The Pens won all five regular-season matchups, a carryover from past years.
At times, it almost seemed like Columbus lost because they were supposed to lose, playing the role of the Washington Generals to Pittsburgh’s Harlem Globetrotters.
The Pens have dominated the Blue Jackets in Columbus like nowhere else. At times, the pro-Pittsburgh crowd in Columbus makes more noise than the Penguins fans inside Consol Energy Center – or at least it seems that way.
Should the Penguins step on the Blue Jackets’ collective throat right off the bat, a quick four-or five-game series win will likely follow.
However, if Columbus finds a way to beat Pittsburgh on Wednesday, then all bets are off.
The Penguins are not an ultra-confident team nor should they be. No, if the Blue Jackets win Game 1 then the pressure mounts on Pittsburgh and questions arise about a team which has missed so many man-games and has little chance to form much cohesiveness.
The trap for the Pens is that they really don’t have to do anything different than they did in the regular season to beat the Blue Jackets. They don’t have to play “the trap,” for example, against Columbus. They don’t have to make many changes or adjustments at all. And even if the team did change strategies – something coach Dan Bylsma is wont to do, how much would they resonate after completely dominating the season series (at least in wins and losses)?
It hasn’t seemed to matter who Pittsburgh throws out against Columbus, the results are always the same. Deryk Engelland was named the No. 1 star and goalie Jeff Zatkoff recorded a 19-save shutout in back-to-back November wins.
Evgeni Malkin earned a star in two out of the first three matchups. The good James Neal potted a hat trick and five points in a 5-3 win Dec. 29.
Sidney Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Beau Bennett all have had solid showings throughout the five games. Perhaps most importantly, goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has played well.
About the only reason to hesitate is that four of the five Penguins’ wins against Columbus came before January.
The Penguins were a better team in the season’s first half than second. The Blue Jackets have gone 13-7-2 since February.
If Pittsburgh wins Wednesday, look for the Pens to move onto the second round in four or five games. If Columbus finds a way to pull off a Game 1 upset, then the Penguins win in seven.
Pens in 5.
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What stood out to me in this article was the number of references from 2009, the year the Pens won the Stanley Cup. The four playoff runs since then haven’t much been worth remembering.
There aren’t typically as many power-play chances in the postseason as in the regular season, but the Pens went 5-for-17 against Columbus on the man advantage while the Blue Jackets were held to one goal on 14 opportunities.
Statistically, these teams have played each other pretty evenly on paper, even though it seemed like the Pens would find a way to win or the Blue Jackets would find a way to lose.
Columbus has never won a playoff game and last got swept by Detroit in 2009. I would be surprised if the Blue Jackets don’t win a game against Pittsburgh.
Boston might have the best odds to hoist the Cup at 7:2, but the Pens aren’t far behind (7:1).
Said Ed Olczyk of the Pens’ chances.
“The East seems to be a little more predictable, but matchups become an important part, too, once you get to the playoffs. … I don’t think there’s any doubt that Boston is the favorite, but the Penguins are within an arm’s reach. They’re right there as the second favorite in my opinion — and getting healthy. They’ve been there, done that. Maybe not the favorite, but one of those teams.”
Frankly, I hadn’t even thought about Orpik in the last couple days since the end of the regular season. Nobody laid the lumber like Orpik did when the Pens won the championship, but that’s a long time ago. If he can come through with a couple big hits and remain unnoticeable the rest of the time, that would be a good thing. He was voted the players’ player again in 2013-14.
Orpik threw up a cautionary flag against Columbus.
“Yeah, but we had a lot of success against Boston in the regular season last season, too,” Orpik said.
Fortunately, the Blue Jackets don’t employ Patrice Bergeron, Tuukka Rask or Zdeno Chara.
The article says a lot of nice things about Orpik and I can’t disagree with any one of them. Let’s hope the impending free agent has a nice long run to close out his Penguins career.