We've known since Saturday evening that the Jackets would face the Penguins, but thanks to an announcement by NBC, we've also learned that game one of their playoff series will be televised Wednesday, the 16th, at 6:30. (Puck drop at CONSOL Energy Center is actually set for 7:30, so it looks like there will be a pre-game special that likely covers all of the games on the slate that night.)
There are a lot of reasons that the Jackets will be considered the underdog - starting with five losses this year in the regular season. But this is a team that despite everything, won three games in four nights. That found ways to win more times than they lost, and ended the season with a 6-3-1 run. (Pittsburgh has yet to play their final match against Ottawa, but at this moment they're 5-4-1.) Edit: The Pens lost to Ottawa in a shootout, making their record over their final ten regular season games 5-3-2.
The Penguins didn't really get a chance to see Sergei Bobrovsky - the one game he played, admittedly, he got run up early, but that was also the same game that Bob was revealed to have been coming down with the flu.
A healthy, energized, and confident goaltender can be a very, very dangerous thing going into the playoffs, and Bob has been excellent - four wins in a row, with a 1.5 GAA and .955 save percentage over that span.
It's hard to predict what will happen in the postseason - on paper, after all, the Los Angeles Kings should have been dead meat in 2012. But even with the disadvantages they face, the Blue Jackets feel like a much different club than the team who were swept out the door in 2009. They've seen adversity, and overcome it. They have experience, energy, and young players like Mark Letestu, Ryan Johansen, and Matt Calvert who have all been getting hot lately.
Besides, if the last two weeks have taught us anything, this team responds to being challenged.
It will be tough - despite the jokes about Marc-Andre Fleury's playoff history, he still has a ring on his finger, and not counting the game against Ottawa tonight, he's posted a 3-0-1 record in the same span where Bob posted his own 4-0 record. His stats may not be quite as impressive (a 2.75 GAA and .887 save percentage), but he has a team in front of him with the ability to score their way out of a hole.
What's interesting is the fact when you look at those final four games, three were OT / Shootout matches, while the Jackets were generally taking care of business in regulation. (Phoenix notwithstanding.) We're reaching the time of the year where everyone has some wear and tear, and those extra five or six minutes a night start to add up as time goes on. Every little advantage in that department helps. Zatkoff was in net for their final shootout loss to Ottawa, but a significant chunk of their roster, particularly on D, found themselves in another extended battle. When every game you play over the final week of the regular season ends up going to extra time, that can't be fun - and with only two real days of rest, it might just be a balance against the Jackets' own grind of three games in four nights to wrap things up.
Finally, there's the fact that this series will have a lot of psychological weight to it.
The Blue Jackets have been erasing a lot of old, bad history. They've started to make a name for themselves as an organization doing things the right way, and as a team on the rise. Now they're being tested at the ultimate level. You don't earn respect by picking on the little guy. You don't make a name for yourself by walking your way through a footrace.
They've got a fight on their hands against one of the biggest, toughest guys in the whole damn place. Take him down a notch, make him bleed a little, maybe even put his lights out, and suddenly everyone gives you a little more room when you walk in the door.
If things go well, if they get a few bounces, and if they work like hell, they've got an opportunity to go places that this franchise has never been before.
It's an exciting time.