Ahead of Wednesday night’s Game 1 between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins, there are several storylines to focus on as fans. It should come as no surprise for these familiar Metropolitan foes to have a history together, and that history provides great context for this series.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the storylines for this series.
A Rematch of the 2014 Round One Loss
This is probably the biggest storyline heading into this series. The first two playoff wins in franchise history happened in that series. It featured blown leads, overtime heroics, goaltending gaffes, and Nick Foligno’s famous called shot. It was all for naught though, as the Penguins would sweep the Blue Jackets out of the playoffs in six games.
With the rematch this season, the storyline will be simple: Can the Blue Jackets force a different outcome this time around? The Blue Jackets showed a lack of fear and nerves despite the lack of collective playoff experience the last time - with many of the veterans on this team having been here for that series, it is possible that they can channel that into a series win this time.
Injuries on Both Sides
Both sides are hurting right now. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be missing Kris Letang, who is out for up to six months after having surgery to fix a herniated disk in his neck. The Penguins will be missing Carl Hagelin, who is out with a foot injury. Olli Maata and Evgeni Malkin are both hurting, but expected to be back for the series. Chris Kunitz may miss time as well.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, meanwhile, will be missing Ryan Murray who has not recovered from the broken hand he suffered against the Buffalo Sabres. Zach Werenski has resumed skating, but may be limited in his return. Lukas Sedlak is still considered to be week to week and will miss the series.
With both teams missing so many key contributors, it will be up to some of the less-heralded players to step up and make their marks on the series.
Can the Blue Jackets Regain Their Mojo?
After running over teams for much of the season, the Columbus Blue Jackets finally hit a skid at the absolute worst possible time, losing six of their last seven games before finally breaking the losing streak in the regular season finale. In doing so, the Blue Jackets rediscovered their goal scoring touch and forecheck that had served them so well for most of the season.
The question now becomes: what can the Blue Jackets do with that momentum? Hopefully the team can find a way to channel their play and carry that forward - they have no prayer of advancing out of the series if they do not.
Can Sergei Bobrovsky Continue His Stellar Play?
Bob led the NHL in save percentage this season at .933 and led the league in goals against average, allowing a paltry 2.06 per game. The Vezina favorite has had a monstrous year by every metric. But, in his last outing in the playoffs, Bob underperformed as the team was eliminated in six games. He registered a .908 SV% and a GAA of 3.17.
For this team to have any success in the postseason, Bobrovsky will have to be the best player on the ice. Bob has carried them at points this season, including winning the NHL’s player of the month award in December. The Blue Jackets will need Bobrovsky to be at his best to have a chance in the series.