The Blue Jackets come home to the corner of Front and Nationwide, where they finished off the Lightning and have won seven of their last eight, to continue their second round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the Boston Bruins tonight at 7 p.m.
Two games, three overtime periods, and one tightly contested series heads to Columbus tied at one game apiece.
Matt Duchene’s double-overtime game winning goal in game two earned the Jackets a split in Boston, but the club will need to clean up some aspects of their game to maintain their success.
For starters, the Blue Jackets will have to do a better job of staying out of the penalty box. After surrendering a grand total of just six power play chances to Tampa Bay, only one in the two games in Ohio, the Jackets have afforded the Bruins eight opportunities in half the number of games.
With a strong penalty kill, the Bruins have only been able to convert on one of their power plays, but Columbus simply cannot afford to keep providing opportunities to the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. If they continue to “play with fire” they will get burned.
I know a lot of people have talked about the series being so physical, but I think that’s just the way you play the game, so we’re just trying to play the game the right way, said Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella.
The three-headed monster of Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak are off to a slow start in the series. They have combined for just one fluky goal, Pastrnak’s goal off of his skate in game two, and a minus three rating. However, if the Jackets don’t do a better job of staying out of the box, you can expect these guys to start heating up. The Blue Jackets cannot help them find their confidence by providing them man advantages.
Meanwhile, Columbus has gotten good production from their top players, and that will have to continue as this series unfolds. In just two games, Artemi Panarin, Seth Jones and Cam Atkinson have combined for two goals and six assists. Not to mention Duchene’s game winner.
They’re playing like this is the be-all and end-all, and it is, said Duchene.
One way the Jackets can help themselves and cutback on the penalties is to play more minutes in the offensive zone. The Blue Jackets have two goals at 5-on-5 in the series. Boston’s defense is at its best when at even strength, but still, a goal per game at 5-on-5 likely won’t be enough to win the series. Columbus needs more scoring chances up and down the lineup.
I think we have fought hard, Tortorella said. I think we have stayed together as a group through surges by the Bruins and found a way to split in Boston. Now we have to get ready to play our next game.
The Jackets can’t count on the Bruins to continue to giveaway the puck. Not just turnovers, but truly brutal and costly turnovers that likely cost the Bruins game two. The Bruins gave away the puck 14 times in the contest. In contrast, they turned the puck over just four times in game one.
Despite some of these areas I’d like to see Columbus play a little sharper, there is no denying their effort level. In two games, the Jackets have amassed 41 blocked shots and a total of 90 hits. It’s these little things that can make all the difference in such an evenly matched series.
You only get so many chances in this league, Duchene said. I mean people have seen my journey through this league and not having a lot of chances to be in this position. So I’m definitely taking every day and trying to make the most of it and I know other guys are, too.
Although, it goes without saying, the Jackets need Sergei Bobrovsky to continue his world-class play, as Tuukka Rask and the Bruins will not make it easy.
With what will truly be a raucous environment inside of Nationwide Arena, the Jackets will have to find the right blend of energy. Tonight has been 20-years in the making, but a few overzealous hits and the Jackets could find themselves out of position, in the box or trailing. The Jackets will have to handle the atmosphere and play a smart game.
Another thing that will be interesting to see is what the lineup looks like for the Jackets. Alexander Wennberg played his first game since April 2 in game two and did a nice job defensively. Wennberg played just over 16 minutes while blocking shots and contributing to the penalty kill.
He did a great job on the PK for us, said Jones. He had a lot of great sticks, picked off a couple of passes in the neutral zone. Him using his smarts and awareness out there really helped our penalty kill.
I am not a betting man, but if I were, I would wager that Wennberg draws back in the lineup tonight and previous healthy scratch, Ryan Dzingel, returns to the lineup in favor of rookie forward Alexandre Texier. I suspect the Jackets blue line will remain the same.
If the Jackets can control the puck a little more, stay out of the box and handle the energy inside the building, I like their odds of taking game three and a 2-1 series lead.