Roundtable: Evaluating The Blue Jackets in The Second Round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs

By Sam Blazer on April 25, 2019 at 9:08 am
Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak (88) checks Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard (58) during the first period at Nationwide Arena.
Russell LaBounty-USA Today Sports

The second round matchup between the Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets is going to be a rough affair. There is going to be forechecking, hits and a lot of bad blood. While these will be happening on a micro level, the staff at 1st Ohio Battery is looking at the series from a macro level for their roundtable. 

Does it get any easier here for the Blue Jackets?

The first iteration of the playoff roundtable had us rate our confidence on the Blue Jackets winning the series on a scale of 1 to 5. Most were on the lower end. Where do you place the Blue Jackets against the Bruins on that same scale?

Chris Pennington: I’m at a 3.5. I’d be at a 4 or higher if the Blue Jackets hadn’t gotten pumped by the Bruins at the end of the regular season - after Columbus was already supposedly clicking. The loss to the Bruins in early April is the only Blue Jackets’ loss since March 21. In my eyes, Boston is modeled very much like Columbus - just enough top-end talent to be elite, a bunch of bruising forwards and mostly stay-at-home defensemen. I think the most significant difference is goaltending -  having Sergei Bobrovsky is a big advantage for the Blue Jackets.

Jacob Nitzberg: Pencil me in for a 4. A hockey team who’s loose and having fun is as dangerous as can be, and the Blue Jackets have virtually zero pressure on them. By sweeping the Lightning last round, they’ve already surged past most expectations. Meanwhile, the Bruins just finished a grueling seven-game series and will have 48ish hours to rest. The only reason I’m not higher than a 4 is the blowout loss the Bruins dealt Columbus near the end of the regular season and the Bruins’ tendency to play a similar, bruising style -- but Tampa blew out the Blue Jackets three times in the regular season, and we all saw how that one ended.

Dan Dukart: Give me a 3. The Bruins’ postseason experience is worrisome to me, and they’re as battle-tested as they come. If the Blue Jackets are able to establish the same commitment to defending, coupled with a stifling forecheck, I like their chances. I never thought I’d say this, but Sergei Bobrovsky may give the edge to the Blue Jackets in this round. If the Blue Jackets can rattle Tuukka Rask, it could really alter the series.

Sam Blazer: You have to place this at a 3. Much more confidence in this matchup than against the Lightning. The two teams are eerily similar, and they both play a stifling brand of hockey. If you give their star players an inch, they will make you pay. I am anticipating a seven-game battle.

Kyle Morrison: *Most* were on the lower end, yeah. I was the one brave soul who wasn’t – I was at a 3.5 – but I’m going to hold steady on this one. The Blue Jackets looked like worldbeaters against the best team of the cap era (on paper, at least), but playoff hockey is unpredictable. Hell, if it wasn’t, the Blue Jackets would be out on the golf course already. We’ve seen this team get overconfident after a hot stretch – and they may have some rust with the days off, too – but if they play like they did against Tampa, I like their chances.

Rob Mixer: I’m somewhere in between confident and cautious. Put me down for a 3, and here’s why: the Bruins have seen it all in the playoffs, and nothing the Blue Jackets do will surprise them. The key for Columbus is do what they did in the first round, but do it consistently and do it better. If the Blue Jackets can shake off their rust and elevate their play, I’m a bit more confident – but it’s hard to dictate against the Bruins.

If the Blue Jackets win this series, what will be the one reason why they pull it off?

CP: If the Blue Jackets’ power play takes care of the Boston Bruins penalty kill. Boston was one of the most penalized teams in the league this season and had a below-average penalty kill. Columbus was swinging at 50% on the PP last series, and if numbers even close to that continue, they’re in business. Quick part two: Tuukka Rask had one of his worst regular seasons in his career, and Bobrovsky is as hot as ever. That’ll hopefully mean something.

JN: Special teams. We saw Columbus’s power play and penalty kill have success against the excellent PP and PK units of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and they were a big reason that the Blue Jackets advanced to the next round. If the Blue Jackets’ special teams can operate near the level we saw against Tampa Bay; they’ll have a good shot to pull off their second-straight upset and reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history.

DD: The Blue Jackets have to manage the puck in the defensive zone. The Bruins feasted on the Maple Leafs turnovers in the first round. This is a very talented and opportunistic team, and Columbus needs to force Boston into creating their own chances and not dine out on miscues. The Bruins forecheck is tenacious and heavy, so keeping it simple and getting the puck out of the zone is priority number one. They'll need to keep the defensive zone turnovers to a minimum to win this series. 

SB: The team defense. In the final two months of the season, a big problem was the swiss cheese defense that they were employing on a lot of nights. The goaltenders were having to bail them out more often than not. In the first round of the playoffs, they shut down many rebound attempts and made sure most of the Tampa Bay players were at an arm's length. They'll need to do that again and then some if they hope to stick with the Bruins.

KM:  Effort. None of the hockey world’s pundits gave Columbus a chance against Tampa, and those same talking heads responded by lazily chalking up the outcome to the Blue Jackets’ physicality. Watching that series, though, I didn’t see a team that was consistently more physical – or even out-skilled by Tampa – the difference was all in the effort. Tampa assumed – much like those talking heads – that their skill would win out by default, but Columbus played like they were burning down the house as they did a better job retrieving pucks and winning individual battles than they had all season long.  They were going all-out and playing decisively, and if they do the same, they could add another series win to their resumes.

RM: Sergei Bobrovsky continues to play well and out-duels Tuukka Rask. This is going to be such a tight series with little margin for error, which puts immense pressure on the goaltenders. Bobrovsky was so good in the opening round against Tampa Bay, but this is new territory and a Bruins team that can play any type of game.

How in the hell do you assemble the Blue Jackets defense coming into this series?

CP: If Markus Nutivaara, Ryan Murray and Adam McQuaid all remain out, I want Dean Kukan to stay put with David Savard. He’s a beautiful skater and is only going to get more confidence as he gets more games under his belt. I’d keep Adam Clendening, too, who showed guts (and assisted on a big goal) in his first two playoff games ever. While we’re at it, give Scott Harrington the axe and give Vladislav Gavrikov a shot. He was said to be “NHL-ready” by Blue Jackets’ scouts two years ago, so how could he not be the same as, if not better than where Harrington is now?

JN: It depends on who’s ready to go. If Markus Nutivaara is back up to speed, I’d keep the first two pairings intact -- Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, and Nuti and David Savard. On the third pairing, I’d keep Dean Kukan and throw Vladislav Gavrikov into the lineup. He brings a presence and pedigree on the blue line that is impossible to ignore, and is quite valuable this time of year. If Nuti can’t go, then I’d have Savard play with Kukan and Adam Clendening play with Gavrikov.

DD: Assuming Nutivaara, Murray, and McQuaid are all out of the lineup with injuries, I’d take out Harrington in favor of Gavrikov. Gavrikov has been NHL ready for years, and should be an immediate upgrade over Harrington. This will allow the Blue Jackets to keep the pairings of Jones-Werenski and Savard-Kukan intact. The reason for leaving Clendening over Harrington is two-fold. First, Gavrikov plays a similar game to Harrington, as both are defensive-minded lefties with size. Second, Clendening is a righty, and most coaches will tell you that they’d rather line of with a lefty on the left-hand side and a righty on the right-hand side. This preserves that.

SB: Why not throw Gavrikov into the lineup? He has experience playing big-time hockey, he isn't going to shy away from anything. If and when Murray and Nutivaara are available, they should go back into the lineup. They are too dynamic and too steady to have on the sidelines. That is despite great play from Clendening and Kukan thus far. A lot of choices here and it doesn't look like you can really go wrong.

KM: If I’m John Tortorella, I’m giving Vladislav Gavrikov a chance to show what he can do – he’s played in some huge international games and more than held his own – and keeping Dean Kukan in the lineup as well. On paper, Ryan Murray and Markus Nutiivaara should have significant roles if cleared to return, but Gavrikov’s presence means they don’t have to rush either guy back. After all, Tampa learned that lesson the hard way with Victor Hedman.

RM: Call me crazy, and I won’t be offended if you do, but this smells like the time to get Vladislav Gavrikov into the mix. He’s a big body who can skate and hang with the Bruins big forwards, and after seeing Alexandre Texier fit like a glove with the Blue Jackets, I don’t see why Gavrikov can’t make the same adjustment. It’s risky, sure, but a gamble that could pay off (especially given how little they used Adam Clendening and Scott Harrington late in the Tampa series).

Will you be satisfied if the Blue Jackets only win one round in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs?

CP: Technically, I should be. But now that the Blue Jackets are clicking in all facets of their game, I’ll be a little disappointed if they lose to Boston. This is the Blue Jackets’ team we’ve waited to see for 18 years, and it’d be a bummer if we only got one round deep with our best lineup ever on paper (and free agency decisions still looming). I guess I’ll say if the Blue Jackets go six games at least, I’ll be cool. Highkey, though, my prediction is Jackets in five.

JN: I’ll absolutely be satisfied. What they did to the President’s Trophy winners in the last round still has me stunned, and I’ll be in awe for many years to come. If they are able to have a competitive series with Boston, or even win, that’ll just make it even sweeter. In my eyes, no matter what happens, this season has been a great one for Columbus.

DD: I think that all depends on how they perform in this round. There would be absolutely no shame in losing to this Bruins team, who is poised to go on a run. But if the Blue Jackets went out in 4 or 5 games, I think it would be a tough pill to swallow, especially as casual fans are supporting this team in an unprecedented fashion. On the other hand, there are only eight teams left standing in the NHL, and if this year’s playoffs has taught us anything, it’s that any team can win. Why not the Blue Jackets?

SB: I am thrilled with what the Blue Jackets have done thus far. If we are being completely honest, I am fine with what they have done. They don't have to win another game, and I am okay with it. I am in the minority but I am over the moon with what they've done. They won a series and made franchise history. I am ecstatic about it. Anything after this is gravy.

KM: Hell yeah I’ll be satisfied. Listen, they’re playing with house money right now – and have been since they stole Game 1 in Tampa. How can you not be satisfied with the team’s first ever series win? Let alone one that came as a sweep against a historically good team – and in front of a home crowd – when nobody gave them a chance coming in. Any way you slice it, this is the best season in franchise history, and that’s not going to change if Columbus loses this series.

RM: Funny how perception changes in a week, right? If you asked me a week ago, I’d have laughed my ass off and said “yes.” Now, it’s so different. The Blue Jackets have the look of a contender and as they sit in the NHL’s final eight teams, you have to like their chances of doing something special. But man, it’s not going to be easy.

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