With the regular season winding down the Columbus Blue Jackets are looking forwards towards just their third ever playoff appearance in 16 seasons. Since a playoffs spot is seemingly locked up at this point, what is next for the team is preparing for their first round playoff matchup. Where each Eastern Conference team will land at the end of the season is still up in the air but, here is the analysis for the Blue Jackets’ three most likely first round opponents.
As of now the Penguins are the most likely team that the Blue Jackets will have to take on in the first round. Certainly the Penguins would be a tough opponent as they are the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, but the Blue Jackets have been one of the most successful teams against them the past few seasons. Since the beginning of the 2014/2015 season the Blue Jackets are 7-3-1 against the Penguins. Just this season they are 2-0-1 with a dominant 7-1 win against Pittsburgh back in December. The Blue Jackets know this Penguins team very well and have begun to develop a rivalry of sorts since their last playoff series in 2014.
Obviously the challenge for the Blue Jackets would be shutting down the Penguins offense, which is first in the league for goals per game. But the Jackets have shown to be better in both team defense and goaltending over the Penguins, and if Sergei Bobrovsky can carry over his dominant play into the playoffs they have a very real chance to dethrone the Stanley Cup champs in the first round.
The Capitals, Penguins, and Jackets are all neck and neck in the standings. One of the three will win the division while the other two will face off in the first round. If the Penguins happen to win the division, the Blue Jackets will be facing off against the Washington Capitals.
Getting the Caps is what the Blue Jackets will want least. They are a big, high scoring team with star goalie Braden Holtby in net. In almost every category both offensive and defensive the Capitals have their number. Fortunately for the Jackets those numbers haven’t had a huge impact on the season series between the two teams as the Blue Jackets took two of the three games against the Caps this year. This matchup would not mean a blowout for the Capitals, but I would be surprised if the Jackets would be able to come out of this one.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Earlier in the season it looked as though the Washington Capitals would run away with the top seed in the Eastern Conference, but recently they have faltered a bit while the Blue Jackets have hit another stride. If the Jackets can keep up their recent play they could take over first in the East which would match them up with whichever team takes the last wild card spot. While it could be any one of the Tampa Bay Lightning, New York Islanders, or Toronto Maple Leafs in that spot comes season’s end, the Maple Leafs occupy it currently.
Compared to the other two teams here, the Maple Leafs are a walk in the park. Certainly no team to underestimate with their stellar rookies, the Maple Leafs just don’t hold a candle to the Penguins or Capitals at this point in their development. The Leafs’ defense is 24th in the league and the offense of the Blue Jackets would be able to eat them alive. Certainly it would not be good to underestimate such a young and hungry team but their defensive skill just wouldn’t be up to the task.
The Blue Jackets are a serious threat this year to make a playoff impact. Unfortunately for them to get out of the first round they will most likely have to deal with either the Penguins or Capitals. Ending up number one in the conference would make things a lot easier for this team. But to be the best you have to beat the best, and a series victory over one of the other Metropolitan division juggernauts might just give this team the morale boost it needs to make their first ever Stanley Cup Finals appearance.