The Blue Jackets were once again an early exit in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and it left both players and fans disappointed. What went wrong after a 2-0 series lead? Who's to blame? Do they have a Sergei Bobrovsky problem?
We'll hopefully answer any questions you might have from the series.
How do you rate the Blue Jackets performance this postseason? Encouraging or just another in a long line of disappointment?
Sam Blazer: I am not as upset as other people that watch the team. Sure, it sucked and sure, they had a chance to win the series but a lot of the issues that presented itself during the series could be easily rectified. I am encouraged by it and I think the team is going to be young/fast next year with plenty of skill. They will continue to skate with the best teams but they'll need an extra gear come playoff time and they showed signs of it.
Kyle Morrison: I was the only one who predicted a Blue Jackets series loss in our pre-series roundtable, but after Game 2, I was hoping nobody would notice happy to be in the wrong. It’s so rare for a team to go up 2-0 on the road that I assumed the Jackets would cakewalk into the second round. I think we all got a bit caught up in the excitement after Game 2 and ignored the biggest red flag from that game, which was Bob getting absolutely shelled, having to make 54 saves to eke out a win. But, as I wrote last week, coming home with a 2-0 series lead and then laying two eggs in front of the biggest crowds in franchise history is immensely disappointing. My contrarian opinion has been vindicated, but at what cost?
Rob Mixer: It’s disappointing. But I think every disappointment has its own characterization, right? The Blue Jackets became a statistic this year, in a bad way. Historically, close to 90 percent of NHL teams that take a 2-0 series lead go on to advance and this group managed to find the other side of that line. Sometimes you have to shake your head, because if something can go wrong, it seems like the Blue Jackets will find a way to make it happen.
Jason Priestas: Both. Stealing the first two on the road at the Metro champs’ home is something I never imagined, and really rallied the city around the team. But then losing four straight – three of them at home – was soul crushing. Game 4 may have been the most disappointing game I’ve seen from the Blue Jackets in a long, long time.
Dan Dukart: I thought it was disappointing, mainly because it reinforces that this team is missing whatever “it” is. The margin for error in the NHL is razor thin, especially in the playoffs. The Blue Jackets are the only franchise in the NHL who’s yet to win a series, let alone win three games. There’s no faith from this fanbase, and it’s understandable why there isn’t. That’s what’s disappointing. This team needs to make the jump from “young, promising team” to “Stanley Cup contender.” They’re not far off, but this playoff evidences they may not be as close as we thought, either.
What is the biggest Blue Jackets need for future playoff appearances?
SB: Lack of discipline is disconcerting. They didn't take many penalties during the regular season, but they simply couldn't stay out of the box in the playoffs. Even though the referees were calling it tight, they still needed to adjust. That comes down to coaching. They were simply just out-coached in multiple facets. They had the horses in this series and will likely have similar players next season, they aren't going to blow it up. A coaching adjustment can go a long way.
KM: The biggest thing isn’t on the roster – it’s better coaching. Both special teams units were largely atrocious and Washington had some opportunities served up on a platter thanks to poor line changes and questionable matchups. As for the roster, one tweak that I’d like to see is a center who can skate and shut down opposing lines. Someone like Ottawa’s Jean-Gabriel Pageau or Florida’s Jared McCann (who has some William Karlsson in his game) would be great, or perhaps a bigger splash with a one-year rental like Matt Duchene. Oh god, we’re going to have another summer of Matt Duchene rumors, aren’t we?
DD: Adding a high-end center needs to be a priority. It’s downright scary to imagine where this team would have been this year if Pierre-Luc Dubois, who started the year as a bottom-six winger, didn’t take giant steps to become a top-line center. Look, they’re in the Metropolitan Division, so they’ll have to go through either Washington or Pittsburgh (or both) at some point to get where they want to go, and Washington absolutely exposed this lack of depth. Solid centers don’t exactly grow on trees, but there should be several opportunities to add with more potential trading partners available in the summer. Jarmo Kekalainen is known to make a splash, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if he’s aggressive in addressing this need in the coming months.
JP: It has to be depth at center, right? PLD was amazing, but beyond him – and he’s only 19 – the Blue Jackets simply don’t have the depth down the middle to threaten with multiple lines right now. I’d like to see a better backup goaltender, to spell Bob in the future, too.
RM: Most of us are saying center ice, and it’s valid, but I wasn’t thrilled with how they handled themselves after taking a 2-0 series lead. They need a change in approach and a change in attitude. Did they think they had this in the bag after coming home from Washington? I’d like to think not, but their game took a drastic turn in the wrong direction once they got to Nationwide Arena. Instead of “let’s win Game 3,” it felt like the moment was enormous for them and it became more of “let’s win the series.” If you look at it that way, it’s overwhelming, especially for a team that’s never won anything. I wasn’t a huge fan of how they were coached and deployed in the series, but I’m sure we’ll cover that in the coming days.
Did the Blue Jackets blow the series or were the Washington Capitals that much better?
JP: The Capitals were a better team. They have one of the best players of this generation, more depth, and got better goaltending after the first two games. Saying that, the Blue Jackets took two on the road and lost the series. That’s hard to do. Even for the Blue Jackets.
SB: I think it was a little Column A and a little Column B. The Capitals have a few top level players on their team. They were better than the top players on the Blue Jackets. It helped that Columbus didn't come to play for a couple of games as well. Endurance seemed to become an issue and the Capitals had more trust in their players to persevere. It can't be fully put on the Blue Jackets but you can't give the Capitals a crowning they don't need.
KM: The Capitals made some great adjustments – and credit to them for doing so – but the Blue Jackets absolutely blew it. We saw long stretches of malaise from Columbus in this series, and the Capitals didn’t take their foot off the gas after Game 1, heartily out-shooting, outworking and outplaying the Jackets in four of the last five games. The difference was apparent – the Capitals exploited the Jackets in the transition game and didn’t stop moving their legs in their own zone, while Columbus was sluggish and sloppy all series long.
DD: No, they blew it. Columbus managed to turn its best assets (ability to roll four lines, high-end 5v5 play, and elite goaltending) into liabilities in no time. Before the season, the Blue Jackets talked about how they needed to stay out of the box to somewhat minimize the greatest goal-scorer of this generation. Instead, they took 27 penalties in six games, and gave up nine goals. Were the Capitals better? Maybe marginally, but I look at this as a team losing a series much more than the Capitals taking over the series.
RM: They blew it. Listen, I’ll say it until I’m blue in the face, but almost 9-of-10 teams to lead 2-0 manage to close it out. There’s a reason why that number is so high – because the scenarios in which you lose the series all add up to some form of unthinkable disaster. The Blue Jackets found a way to lose, and they lost quick.
Sergei Bobrovsky, playoff liability or product of his environment?
SB: Bobrovsky faced way too many high danger shots. He also needs to make a stop when they need it most. The "safe is death" approach is good, but when the team was caught with so many odd-man rushes, they should have pulled on the reins. Bobrovsky needs to be better but the team isn't going to find a better goaltender than him on the open market. They're truly caught between a rock and a hard place.
KM: Even if he’s a liability, there isn’t a viable alternative out there for this team. That said, no, he’s not. He’s had matchups with some of the most talented offensive teams in this generation (Pittsburgh twice, Washington this year) and hasn’t gotten anything resembling quality defensive zone play from his teammates. He let in a couple of ugly goals – especially in that last game – but I thought he was outstanding for a few stretches there in that series. He outright stole Game 2 and nearly did the same in Game 5, where two of the goals he allowed came via redirected shots and another came on a freak bounce. Control 5-on-5 play better, don’t go 0-for-17 on the power play in the last four games, and this isn’t a discussion.
DD: Let me start with this caveat: the defense in front of him wasn’t great, for sure. But Bobrovsky just posted the best series of his career and still only posted a .900 save percentage. I’m not sure I’m going to call him a ‘playoff liability’, but I will say that team’s expect their (two-time) Vezina Trophy winners to steal a playoff now and again, and he’s not once done that. Ever. Is the sample size large enough? I think it is.
RM: He’s got to be better, but I’ll stop short of calling him a liability. He’s one of the five best goalies on the planet, but he’s now got this track record of being brutal in the playoffs. The sample size is small, and the matchups have been tough...but maybe the Blue Jackets can try for a higher seed, home-ice advantage and not draw one of the two best teams in their division as an opening round opponent before we make a conclusion on Bobrovsky? That seems like a fair course to chart.
JP: It is what it is at this point. The Blue Jackets are not in the playoffs without Bobrovsky, but at the same time, his play dips in the playoffs, for whatever reason (whatever reason could simply be playing Crosby and Ovechkin). Great goalies get hot and steal series against better teams. I’d love to see that out of him at some point.