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Internet Hotstove: Columbus Blue Jackets

Internet Hotstove is a series where Last Word On Sports asks the opinions of respected bloggers from around the internet about their team’s chances in the 2013-14 NHL Playoffs. The goal is to get a broad view of opinion from around the league as an alternative to other playoff previews.

The Columbus Blue Jackets enter the 2013-14 playoffs as a team without a star, but that is not something that is negative. Ryan Johansen has certainly had an excellent year, but does not seem to be receiving the kind of press that Rick Nash or even Marian Gaborik did prior to departing the club. However, where they are missing star power the Jackets have a very well rounded team. They will be hoping this combination of parts is enough to win them their first ever playoff game, and ultimately maybe even their first ever playoff series.

Meet the Blogger:

Mike MacLean- Managing Editor at @mejmaclean

Internet Hotstove

1. Who is the Blue Jackets X-factor in the Stanley Cup playoffs?

For the Jackets to have any success in the playoffs, Sergei Bobrovsky will have to be the X-factor. They’ll be facing the Pittsburgh Penguins and their high-powered offense in the opening round, and with the obvious unbalance between each team’s talents on offense, Bob will have to be outstanding to tip the scales in Columbus’ favor.

2. This team narrowly missed the playoffs last year before making it in this time around. What was the big difference?

Though last year’s team and the current group features largely the same cast, there are some distinct parallels and differences. In both seasons the team started slowly and picked it up midway through the season, led by the stellar play of Bobrovsky. Last season’s squad, however, finished the season ranked 25th in goals per game, while this season the team finished 13th. The increased offensive output has allowed them to steal points in games that last season would have been out of reach. The powerplay this season is drastically better as well: last year the Jackets had the 28th-best powerplay, while this season they sit 10th. The breakout of Ryan Johansen has also put the team over the edge and into the playoffs.

3. Has the West to East transition helped the Blue Jackets this season?

The transition to the Eastern Conference has been hugely beneficial for the Jackets. There’s the obvious reduction in travel, with more games in their home time zone. Though the Jackets had a winning record against the Western Conference this season (13-11-4), a full season in the West, thanks to the greater number of elite teams, would have made making the playoffs a more difficult task.

4. What does this team possess that should make big Eastern Conference teams worried about them?

Eastern teams have been taking notice of the Jackets’ relentless style of play. They are a very difficult team to play against, making up for any talent shortfalls with tenacious play. Couple that with balanced scoring and a Vezina winner in net, and the Jackets are not an easy out.

5. How far do you think the Blue Jackets will go in the 2013-14 NHL playoffs?

Though I and many other fans of the Jackets wanted to see a matchup with the Rangers in the first round, due to the multitude of storylines that would accompany the series, the Jackets and Penguins will be an exciting matchup nonetheless. Last season Marc-Andre Fleury imploded in the playoffs, losing the starting job to Tomas Vokoun. If Fleury falters again this season, the Jackets will be there to pull off the upset. Goaltending aside, the Penguins have a lethal offensive attack with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz and James Neal leading the way. If Columbus can find a way to shut down the star power of Pittsburgh, and Bobrovsky can outplay Fleury, an upset may be on the cards. That is an incredibly tall order though, and if I were to offer a prediction I would say Pittsburgh in six games. Columbus wins it’s first-ever playoff game(s).


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