It’s the NHL playoffs and that means the Columbus Blue Jackets will take on the Washington Capitals in the first round. This marks just the fourth post-season berth for the Blue Jackets. They lost to Pittsburgh in both of their last two attempts and have a new challenge ahead of them this time out.
Game One of the series takes place on Thursday in Washington.
Columbus rested all of their top players on the last game of the season and took the loss to ensure the matchup against the Capitals, so it’s hard to say this isn’t what they wanted. But avoiding the Penguins may not be all it’s cracked up to be, with the Blue Jackets drawing an opponent with something to prove.
Of course, Columbus has plenty to prove as well. They have yet to win a playoff round, while the Capitals have yet to move out of the second round in the Alex Ovechkin era.
And believe me, the Blue Jackets are no pushovers. They’re coming in with a lot of momentum and are the NHL’s highest-scoring club over the past month. They’re just 1-3-0 against the Capitals in the regular season, but that one win was a 5-1 victory and two of Washington’s wins were one-goal leads. The third win found Columbus outshooting the Caps 37-17.
Of course, the Capitals are coming in with their third straight division title. Their roster may have thinned out a little since last time, with names like Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson no longer in the fold, but Washington’s weathered the storm.
Still, this is a team used to post-season disappointment. Ovechkin will always have playoff losses on his resume until he rectifies the situation and the sun isn’t shining any brighter on Evgeny Kuznetsov or Nicklas Backstrom. There is pressure on these guys to succeed, to say the least.
Unfortunately, the Caps have struggled to find consistency in goal and that won’t help the cause. Braden Holtby has bottomed out since February and Philipp Grubauer may be getting the more critical post-season starts. The 26-year-old is considered by many to give Washington its best shot at taking the prize.
The Blue Jackets, conversely, have been rather consistent in goal thanks to Sergei Bobrovsky. Despite some struggles, the netminder has been solid. He has a goals against average of 2.42 and has granted the team the confidence it needs to play an up-tempo game.
With the Capitals playing to their lowest goals-for ranking since 2013-2014 and the Blue Jackets getting good goaltending without losing offensive prowess, Washington could be in trouble early and often. But if Ovechkin and Co. find their jets and work through all the skeletons in the proverbial closet, they could stave off elimination for at least one round.