Wennberg returns to lineup, goaltending and special teams surge as Jackets look to continue playoff
The Columbus Blue Jackets will look to continue their playoff success tomorrow night in
front of a sold out Nationwide Arena crowd and go up on the Boston Bruins 2-1. After a dramatic win in Boston on Saturday to knot the series at 1, the Jackets find themselves in a position where they can win the series by winning their remaining home games. The biggest surprise to come out of this playoff run is the appearance of a red hot power play and the amazing goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky. I had three keys for the Jackets heading into the series with Boston, match their physicality, the play of Bobrovsky, and the CBJ special teams. In this article I will break down on whether or not we are seeing these keys met and what the CBJ must do to continue their playoff success and find a way to the 3rd round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The first key that the Jackets have to meet in order to have success is to match the
energy and physical play of the Boston Bruins who are an experienced and battle worn playoff team. I felt that the Jackets fell flat in this category last Thursday night in their game 1 loss in TD Garden. The CBJ seemed like they jumped on a moving train after the long rest after their round 1 sweep of Tampa Bay. The Jackets were outworked for a majority of the game until the 3rd period, but the slow start, coupled with mistakes, and lazy plays on defense spelled the Jackets demise as they fell 3-2 in overtime. Coming into the second game it seemed that the loss had fired the team and Coach Tortorella up. The Jackets from the midpoint of the 1st period all the way to the end of the game outmuscled and outworked the Bruins, beating them at their own game. The Jackets were able to out hit the Bruins 49-42 in one of the most physical games I have ever watched and the results showed, a 3-2 double OT win, stealing a win from TD Garden. If the Jackets are able to match this intensity in game 3, I believe they will receive a similar result.
The one constant factor that the Blue Jackets have had through the playoffs is the goaltending of Bobrovsky. Bob has been exceptional, almost out of this world, especially considering he was a question mark because of his history of playoff struggles. The big difference of his play this year is he hasn’t given up the soft goals that almost look like flukes. Bobrovsky made a couple monster saves late in game 2 against Boston with the help of the post. The one save that stands out is his save in close on Bergeron in OT that left the crowd shocked and standing in Boston. Another big difference is the defense. The Jackets have been more disciplined and more organized this year than the series against the Capitals the year before. They have blocked shots, been exceptional on the penalty kill, and have stayed out of the box. With Bobrovsky I have always felt as long as the defense doesn’t leave him out to dry, he will rise to the occasion and make the big saves. This series is no different, Bob finished game 1 with 34 saves on 37 shots and a .919 save percentage. He finished game 2 with 29 saves on 31 shots and a .935 save percentage. What makes Bobrovsky’s elevated play so important is that Tuukka Rask is standing tall on the other end and playing exceptional hockey as well. If Bob continues to play like this, and he will have to, the Jackets are going to be one tough team to beat.
The last key for the Blue Jackets is the special teams, and have they ever delivered. In order to be a contender for the cup, you have to not just be good on special teams, but great. The power play percentage for the Jackets was one stat that made me skeptical they could see success in the playoffs after sitting at an awful 15.4 percent, the 4th worse in the league. However, the Jackets power play became red hot just in time for the playoffs, when they need it the most. In the postseason the Jackets have converted on 7 out of 18 power plays for a percentage of 38.9, the highest mark of any team at any point of this season. The penalty kill has been and still remains sharp as well with the Jackets killing off 12 of 14 opposition power plays for a penalty kill rate of 85.7%. What is huge about the penalty kill is that it was awful last year against the Capitals, it was actually one of the biggest reasons why they lost last season in the first round. Bad discipline along with bad penalty killing will quickly lead to elimination. This season we are seeing much better discipline and great penalty killing and it shows. As long as the Jackets stay out of the box, kills the penalties when they do, and continue to convert their power play opportunities, I like their chances to win this series.
Now, there are a few more things I would like to touch on. First, Ryan Dzingel being a healthy scratch and Alexander Wennberg being put in his place. This change came with a lot of backlash towards Coach Tortorella from Jacket fans, but I liked the call he made. With Dzingel in the game, the Jackets gave up a lot of size and physicality to Boston. Dzingel was also nonexistent on offense in game 1. In order to beat Boston, the Jackets need to be able to match Boston’s physical play, and that wasn’t happening with Dzingel, in fact Dzingel has only 13 hits on the season to Wennberg’s 34. Wennberg is much more physical, and if Dzingel played game 2 the Jackets most likely would be down 2-0 in the series. Lastly, the one thing I would like to see from the Jackets is for there to be more of a supporting cast this series, we have seen Artemi Panarin, Dubinsky, and Duchene all score goals, but they need the whole team to contribute. They need people like Riley Nash, Nick Foligno, and Josh Anderson to all contribute on offense, some goals from defensemen would be great as well. If we see more of this contribution from the supporting cast and the Jackets continue to hit on these keys, I believe it is very likely that the Jackets will advance to conference finals