Season Series: Pittsburgh Penguins – 5-0-0.
Keys to Winning for Pittsburgh: It’s no secret that the Penguins have struggled to stay healthy this year, which makes finishing as the second best team in the Eastern Conference quite the accomplishment. They’ve dominated the Blue Jackets all season long, but if they take them lightly it could be another quick exit for the Penguins. Marc-Andre Fleury will have to be sharp and has been the Penguins’ Achilles heel ever since they won the Stanley Cup in 2009. Even with all the star power the Penguins possess, it won’t matter if Fleury turns in another lackluster performance.
In order to be successful in the postseason, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will need to play like superstars, but offensive production from the two of them isn’t going to be enough. The Pens have struggled to find secondary scoring all year long, which is an important piece to winning the 16 games that it takes to lift the cup. Brandon Sutter and Lee Stempniak, who will likely play together on the third line, are two players who have to find a way to put the puck in the net.
Secondary scoring and Fleury’s play will be the key determinants to the Penguins’ success.
Keys to Winning for Columbus: The Blue Jackets enter only their second postseason in franchise history and have yet to post a playoff win – they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in their only other postseason appearance. The Jackets have a lack of playoff experience on their roster, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the pieces to upset the Penguins. Ryan Johansen has turned into one of the best players under-25 in the NHL and has finally added some offensive excitement that was left behind when Rick Nash was shipped out of town.
To be honest, the only way that the Blue Jackets take four of seven games from the Penguins is if Sergei Bobrovsky is a brick wall in between the pipes. He is the sole reason why the Blue Jackets are even in the playoffs, but if the 2011-12 Los Angeles Kings proved anything, it’s that a hot goaltender can take a team a long way. The Kings were far from the most talented team in the playoffs that year, but Jonathan Quick led them to a 16-4 record in the playoffs.
If the Blue Jackets are going to pull off the upset, Johansen and Bobrovsky are going to have to be at their absolute best.
Prediction: Penguins in five.
I think Bobrovsky will steal one of the two games in Columbus, but the Penguins have far too much firepower for the Blue Jackets to contain. They just don’t have the depth to match up with the Penguins’ scorers.