YOUR Columbus Blue Jackets are in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs! Yet I’m guessing some of you have reservations. After all, for much of the last month we were hoping the Jackets could do anything to avoid facing the Tampa Bay Lightning. Jarmo Kekalainen added pieces at the deadline to make a deep playoff run, and instead the team is facing a quick exit against one of the most impressive regular season performers of all time, and arguably the best of the salary cap era.
Tampa is clearly a great team, and it’s going to take a lot to defeat them. But I don’t think this is going to be a public execution. Here is why you should look forward to this series:
Be Glad We’re Here
This has been a roller coaster month - and that has been a microcosm of the entire season. This Jackets team is consistently inconsistent. They made a big splash at the trade deadline, then found their season at risk of falling apart. They were out of playoff position just a week and a half ago, prior to beating Montreal. Missing the playoffs would have been a disaster for this franchise, given the assets traded away and the potential of losing many high quality free agents in the summer. Instead, the season continues, the free agents get to spend more time with the team, the team gets extra revenue, and the young core of the roster gets more experience.
This is three playoff appearances in a row! We’ve come a long way from the franchise that took eight seasons to make the playoffs, and another five to get back a second time.
To get into the playoffs, the Jackets ripped off a streak of seven wins in their last eight games. Entering the playoffs that way doesn’t guarantee postseason success, but it’s at least something different than the last two years, when the team took the foot off the gas after clinching.
Don’t think that the Jackets are in the playoffs only because of a late hot streak. This is a good team! They beat their Vegas over/under by a half point. Their 98 points is actually higher than the 97 points last season that earned them the first wild card. Just this season they would have been third place in the Pacific Division or first wild card out of the Central.
Tampa has five players with 20 or more goals. You know who else can say that? The Blue Jackets! Cam Atkinson, Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Josh Anderson, and Oliver Bjorkstrand all that hit that mark. But that doesn’t include two new additions: Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel also scored more than 20 this season, though only four each since joining the Jackets.
Another exciting new addition is Alexandre Texier, the 19 year old second round pick who made his NHL debut on Friday and scored his first goal on Saturday. He shows poise beyond his years and instant chemistry with BJORKSTRAND. He could be the secret weapon in this series.
Those additions highlight a strength of this roster that has not existed previously: scoring depth. Last year, the series against the Capitals turned once Washington found a way to shut down the Panarin/Dubois/Atkinson top line. The Jackets had no answers, and the injury to Alex Wennberg neutralized Thomas Vanek and Boone Jenner as well. The last two games have revealed three lines clicking at the right time. Playing the match-up game will be more difficult for Jon Cooper this year than it was for Barry Trotz last year.
As playoff previews said in 2014, 2017, and 2018, it all comes down to Sergei Bobrovsky. Every season since 2013 has turned on the performance of the Russian netminder. After a rough start to the season, he has been on top of his game over the last two months. He has nine shutouts on the season, and five of those came against playoff teams (Golden Knights, Capitals, Sharks, Hurricanes, Islanders).
He has NOT played well against Tampa this year. That’s a valid concern. But IF he can play at the top of his game, that can stop any team, even one this good.
So don’t worry and just enjoy the ride! Stay tuned to The Cannon all week as we get ready for Game 1 on Wednesday