NHL Playoff Predictions: Pittsburgh vs. Columbus

Here we go. Not only is this the last entry in our series on the First Round Playoff Predictions, it is the hardest one to call. Two excellent teams, placing 2nd and 5th in the NHL, who hate each other and want nothing more than to stomp the other down. There are injuries on both sides that make this such an intriguing matchup, not to mention the fact that it is the highest scoring team against the second-best defense in the league. This writer still hasn’t made up his mind on who’s going to win the series. Will he ever? Read on and find out.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

2. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS vs. 3. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS

PITTSBURGH:
50-21-11 111 PTS
Goals For – 282 (1st)
Goals Against – 234 (17th)
Last 10: 4-4-2

COLUMBUS:
50-24-8 108 PTS
Goals For – 249 (7th)
Goals Against – 195 (2nd)
Last 10: 3-5-2

3 losses in Overtime/Shootouts were all that separated the Penguins and the Blue Jackets, but a major storyline will be the best goal scoring team in the league against the 2nd stingiest defense. Sidney Crosby and company against Sergei Bobrovsky and likely his second Vezina trophy will be an intriguing matchup.

SPECIAL TEAMS:

PITTSBURGH:
Power Play – 23.1% (3rd)
Penalty Kill – 79.8% (20th)

COLUMBUS:
Power Play – 19.9% (12th)
Penalty Kill – 82.5% (9th)

Not a surprise that Pittsburgh was close to the top of the Power Play rankings, but what is surprising is their subpar penalty kill. Any undisciplined play (if Tom Sestito gets in any games) could cost the Penguins this series. It’s that close. Considering Columbus is relatively good overall, they get a small advantage.
Advantage: CBJ

GETTING THE PUCK ON NET:

PITTSBURGH:
Shots For – 33.2/game (1st)
Shots Against – 32.2/game (28th)
Shooting % – 10.1% (4th)

COLUMBUS:
Shots For – 30.6/game (9th)
Shots Against – 30.0/game (15th)
Shooting % – 9.7% (7th)

The Penguins shoot the most in the league and have one of the highest percentages, but what scares me the most is how many shots they give up per game. Over the long haul of the postseason, that may catch up to them, especially with no Kris Letang this year. This isn’t the 2016 Pittsburgh Penguins.
Advantage: CBJ

HEAD-TO-HEAD:

Dec. 22 – 7-1 CBJ
Feb. 3 – 4-3 PIT (OT)
Feb. 17 – 2-1 CBJ (OT)
Apr. 4 – 4-1 PIT

INJURIES:

PITTSBURGH:
Kris Letang – Out for Playoffs (Neck)
Chris Kunitz – Day-to-Day, unknown whether he’ll be ready for start of playoffs (Lower Body)
Carl Hagelin – Week-to-Week, he may return at some point during the series (Lower Body)

COLUMBUS:
Ryan Murray – Week-to-Week, not ready for start of playoffs (Hand)

SCHEDULE (ALL TIMES EST):
Game 1: Wednesday, April 12th: 7:30 PM (Sportsnet 360, USA)
Game 2: Friday, April 14th: 7:00 PM (Sportsnet, NHL Network)
Game 3: Sunday, April 16th: 6:00 PM (Sportsnet 360, CNBC)
Game 4: Tuesday, April 18th: 7:30 PM (Sportsnet 360, CNBC)
Game 5: Thursday, April 20th: TBD*
Game 6: Sunday, April 23rd: TBD*
Game 7: Tuesday, April 25th: TBD*
*If necessary

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Columbus Blue Jackets

FINAL THOUGHTS:

It’s the defending Stanley Cup Champions against a team who won 16 in a row this season. Mike Sullivan vs. John Tortorella. Sidney Crosby vs. Brandon Dubinsky. Matt Murray vs. Sergei Bobrovsky. No matter how you look at this series, there are a lot of intriguing storylines. This series should go 7 games, and it will be a travesty if one team picks another team apart fast and early. That would be interesting, but this first round series may have the most potential for greatness. The Pittsburgh Penguins should be locks to make it out of the first round, and that is what my head says. My heart is going another direction. Sergei Bobrovsky will stand on his head, and a Malkin who is not 100% and the loss of guys like Kunitz and Hagelin for the majority, if not all, of this series will be too much against a team like Columbus. Go with your heart. Columbus in 7 games.

*All stats courtesy of http://www.hockey-reference.com

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