Columbus' Nathan Horton knocks down Beau Bennett while battling for the puck in a game against the Penguins late last month.
By Dave Molinari / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Containing Sidney Crosby, who earned his second NHL scoring championship and has 105 points in 82 career playoff games, would be enough of a challenge for Columbus, but the Blue Jackets also will have to worry about doing damage-control against the likes of Chris Kunitz, James Neal and, from all indications, Evgeni Malkin. What's more, getting Paul Martin [hand] and Kris Letang [stroke] back after lengthy absences has stabilized the Penguins defense. Center Ryan Johansen's profile outside of Columbus still hasn't caught up with his productivity, but he is coming off a 33-goal season and is a star in the making. Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the incumbent Vezina Trophy winner, was pulled from his only start against the Penguins in 2013-14, but absolutely owned Consol Energy Center when he played for Philadelphia.
The Penguins likely have the best special-teams tandem in the playoffs, with a power play that tied for first and the fifth-ranked penalty-kill during the regular season. Brandon Sutter has been their only real threat to score short-handed. The Blue Jackets have a top-10 power play (19.3 percent) and a middle-of-the-pack penalty-kill (82.1 percent). Columbus is a viable threat to score while down a man, with nine short-handed goals in 2013-14. Plum native R.J. Umberger, pictured left, of Columbus scored half of his 18 goals on special teams, with a team-high eight on the power play. Head-to-head, the Penguins special teams dominated Columbus during the regular season, scoring on five of 19 power plays and allowing one goal in 14 short-handed situations.
The Penguins have lost to a lower-seeded opponent in each of the past four playoffs. ... Columbus led for just 56 seconds of the 300 minutes these teams played during the regular season. ... While the Penguins injuries have gotten a lot of attention, the Blue Jackets will be missing some key players during Round 1. RW Nathan Horton (abdominal surgery) is out, while Umberger (unspecified) and LW Nick Foligno (knee) apparently won't be ready for Game 1. ... Columbus C Mark Letestu, a former Penguin, scored four times in the final five games after going goal-less in the previous 22. ... The Penguins' season-series sweep included three victories at Nationwide Arena. ... Five Columbus players tied for the team lead with five game-winning goals in the regular season. ... Despite having home-ice advantage in each of their past seven series, the Penguins have started 2-0 once in that span. ... Columbus never has won a playoff game. Detroit swept the Blue Jackets in their only previous postseason appearance (2009). ... Penguins D Rob Scuderi has one goal in 99 career playoff games. ... Columbus D Fedor Tyutin, who hails from the black-and-gold stronghold of Izhevsk, Russia, lists the Steelers as his favorite NFL team.
Who will win
Penguins in six. Columbus, like the New York Islanders in Round 1 a year ago, will be fired up and feisty -- to say nothing of well-coached -- when they face the Penguins, but the Blue Jackets' best days still are in the future. Assuming the Penguins don't take it upon themselves to accelerate Columbus' development, that is.
7:38 p.m. Today
7:08 p.m. Saturday
7:08 p.m. Monday
7:08 p.m. April 23
Time TBA April 26
Time TBA April 28
Time TBA April 30
Dates, and times for the first-round matchup. All games are scheduled to be televised on Root Sports. (*-if necessary)
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