First off, writing this as a Pittsburgh Penguins fan isn’t easy. I want to believe that the Penguins will steamroll the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs, but there is one landmark standing in the way.
Sergei Bobrovsky is only 25 years old, but he has already carried a city on his shoulders for the last two years. The Blue Jackets are the only major professional sports team in Columbus, and even though there is the Columbus Crew and Ohio State University, Bobrovsky has finally brought some life into a city that used to be the laughing stock of the NHL.
Rick Nash just couldn’t do it. He was the face of the franchise for years, but he couldn’t get the Blue Jackets that precedented first playoff victory in franchise history. Many people said he wouldn’t really thrive until he was sent to a city with a larger market, but after only 39 points in 65 games with the New York Rangers this season, that argument isn’t looking too strong.
Bobrovsky on the other hand spent his first two years in the NHL in Philadelphia, which has proved to be one of the worst locations for talented goaltenders. The media ran out Ilya Bryzgalov and now it’s Bobrovsky who has been striving ever since he departed Philly.
The expectations in Philadelphia were always too high. It was win the Stanley Cup or get out of town.
Bobrovsky only played a total of 223 minutes in the playoffs with the Flyers, so the amount of pressure placed on the starter has never been felt by him; however, there will be no pressure felt by the Blue Jackets or Bobrovsky when their first round playoff series against the Penguins begins on Wednesday night.
The Penguins are supposed to destroy the Blue Jackets.
The Penguins are 5-0-0 against the Blue Jackets this season and have the four most established offensive players between the two teams in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal and Chris Kunitz.
But remember two years ago when the Penguins took on the Philadelphia Flyers and Marc-Andre Fleury basically blew the entire series after allowing 26 goals in only six games? Or how about last year, when the Penguins escaped a first round matchup with the New York Islanders, even though they had no business coming out on the better end of that series.
Marc-Andre Fleury was replaced by Tomas Vokoun last year as well after he struggled once again when it mattered most.
Fact is, if past years have taught us anything it’s that goaltending wins championships, which is ironic considering the NHL has been working for the past decade to find more ways to create offense.
When you think of the Chicago Blackhawks‘ championship run last year, the first few names that come to mind are probably Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane, but Corey Crawford was just as important to their championship equation; he had a 16-7-1 record, .932 save percentage and allowed under two goals per game.
Are the Blue Jackets the more talented team in this matchup? Of course not – it isn’t even close – but they have the one weapon in between the pipes that can make average teams in the regular season great in the playoffs.
All I’m saying is don’t be surprised if the Blue Jackets turn some heads. There is no reason why the 2014 Blue Jackets can’t become the next 2003 Anaheim Ducks or 2012 Los Angeles Kings.
The pressure is all on Pittsburgh, which can be enough to make a team fail.