It's time for part three of this first-round potential matchup preview series. Here are parts one and two. In this article I will be looking at a potential matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus is 32-22-15 on the year for 79 points, currently sitting in the second wild-card spot. Of their final thirteen games, nine of them are against teams currently in the playoffs. A tough way to finish the season, but it also doesn't help that the Blue Jackets are mired in their worst slump of the season. With just two wins in their last fourteen games, and a 2-4-4 record over their last ten, a once sure playoff spot has come into question.
Columbus is not a very strong offensive team. Even with solid top talent like Pierre-Luc Dubois, Gustav Nyquist and Cam Atkinson, the Jackets still rank 26th in goals scored. The team's top scorer Dubois only has 48 points in 69 games played, followed by Nuquist who sits at 42 points also in 69 games. What they lack in scoring they make up for in depth and defense. With top depth options like Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner and Alexander Wennberg, Columbus makes life very difficult for opposing forwards. Unfortunately Columbus will be without key players in Bjorkstrand, who led the team in goals with 21, as well as imposing power forward Josh Anderson as both are done for the rest of the season. Even at full health, it's difficult to see the Blue Jackets being able to keep up with the Bruins offense. While they do have some great veteran players who thrive in the more physical style of the playoffs, the Bruins have a clear advantage in both top-end talent and overall depth.
The true strength of the Blue Jackets is their defensive core. With stars like Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, and former number two pick Ryan Murray they have plenty of talent to go against anyone. The bad news for Columbus is the injury bug has struck once again and it looks like Seth Jones will be out the rest of the regular season. With Jones out players like David Savard and Markus Nutivaara will be leaned on heavily to pick up some of the slack. On a more positive note, a pleasant surprise for Columbus has been the play of rookie Vladislav Gavrikov. In 68 games Gavrikov has scored 17 points with a -1 plus-minus. Zach Werenski is now the top defenseman on the team and has done well in the role. Werenski actually leads the team in goals at 20 with Bjorkstrand now on IR. This is another area the Bruins should have the advantage. Even with a healthy Jones, the Blue Jackets lack the shutdown ability and playoff experience the Bruins's defense has.
Finally we come to the goalies. After losing last year's starter Bobrovsky in free agency, Columbus turned the net over to the young tandem of Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. On the year Korpisalo has a record of 19-12-5 with a goals-against of 2.60 and a .911 save percentage. Merzlikins has gone 12-9-8 with a goals-against of 2.39 and a .922 save percentage. While Korpisalo emerged as the starter first, some injuries opened the door for Merzlikins to establish himself as a viable number one option. The Jackets will likely start the playoffs rolling whoever finishes the season best, but won't have an issue switching it up if one struggles on the bigger stage. Columbus has allowed the fifth-fewest goals in the league and a big part of that has been the impressive play of both young goalies. One area of concern is neither goalie has played a game in the playoffs. Against a playoff-tested team like the Bruins this could be a big disadvantage. While both Jacket’s goalie have been impressive, their lack of experience and Rask once again showing he's one of the best in the league gives the Bruins the advantage.
With the Bruins having a clear advantage in all three aspects covered I don't see this being a long series. While the Blue Jackets won the first two regular-season meetings, both games were before Columbus was hit hard by injuries. With one more matchup on the 16th these teams will see how the new rosters stack up against each other. I don't see this series going more than five games and wouldn't be surprised if the Bruins swept them in four. While Columbus does bring a solid defensive game and a physical style that is made for the playoffs, I don't see them being able to overcome so many key injuries. As always don't forget to check out our other pages as spring training continues, NFL free agency approaches, and the Celtics make their push for the playoffs.
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