With the Stanley Cup Playoffs set to begin Wednesday, CSNWashington.com is previewing each of the eight first round matchups.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (M1) VS. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (WC1)
If the Columbus Blue Jackets are to advance to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time franchise history, they’ll have to beat a Pittsburgh Penguins team that has owned them in the regular season.
The Metropolitan Division champion Penguins were a perfect 5-0-0 against Columbus this season and have won six straight and 10-of-12 overall in the head-to-head series.
While the Blue Jackets are still searching for their first ever postseason win (they were swept by the Detroit Red Wings in their only other playoff appearance in 2009), the Penguins are heavy on experience and are seeking a return to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in five years.
THE ‘BOB’: The Penguins may have swept Columbus in the regular season, but the Blue Jackets say that Sergei Bobrovsky’s presence alone provides a big difference heading into the postseason.
Bobrovsky missed all but one regular season meeting against Pittsburgh this year due to injury and illness, but the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner is healthy again and coming off another impressive campaign (32-20-5, five shutouts, .923 save percentage, 2.38 goals-against-average).
The 25-year-old is still seeking his first career playoff win though, having gone 0-2 with the Philadelphia Flyers over parts of seven games in 2011 and 2012. Bobrovsky’s playoff numbers also include an .848 save percentage and 4.04 goals-against-average.
FLOWER POWER: While Bobrovsky will look to put his recent playoff disappointments behind him, Marc-Andre Fleury will look to do the same for the Penguins.
Since leading the Penguins to the Stanley Cup in 2009, Fleury has struggled come springtime, and the Penguins No.1 goalie was eventually relegated to backup duty last year while the Penguins advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals. Since 2010, Fleury is 14-16 in the playoffs with an .880 save percentage and 3.18 goals-against-average.
While Fleury was replaced last year by veteran Tomas Vokoun, his backup this season has been 26-year-old Jeff Zatkoff (12-6-2, .912SV%, 2.61 GAA). Vokoun missed the entire regular season after undergoing surgery in September to remove a blood clot, but the 37-year-old appeared in two games last weekend with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the American Hockey League and was recalled by Pittsburgh on Monday.
HEALTHY PENGUINS: While the Penguins lost an NHL-high 529 man games due to injury this season, the team is relatively healthy heading into the postseason.
Defensemen Kris Letang returned to the lineup last week after suffering a stroke that sidelined him for 26 games, while fellow blueliner Paul Martin returned April 3, after missing 18 games with a broken hand he suffered at the Sochi Olympics. Forward Evgeni Malkin, who missed the final 11 games of the regular season with a foot injury, is expected to return for Game 1 against Columbus.
Sidney Crosby was one of the few Penguins who went injury-free throughout the season, and the Penguins captain produced another MVP caliber season with an NHL-best 104 points in 80 games.
CHUCK GORMLEY: COLUMBUS IN 7
BEN RABY: PITTSBURGH IN 5