by: Jason Mackey, TribLIVE Updated:
PITTSBURGH - The Penguins could not have picked a better playoff-opening opponent than the Blue Jackets.
And it has nothing to do with Columbus being the shortest possible distance.
Not only do they avoid what would have been potentially a brutal series with the surging Flyers, but also the Penguins face a team against which they have trailed for just 56 seconds this season.
That's a span of five games.
Columbus limps into the playoffs without wingers Nathan Horton (abdominal surgery) and R.J. Umberger, a Plum native who hasn't played since April 6 because of an upper-body injury.
During the regular season against Columbus, the Penguins killed 13 of 14 penalties (92.9 percent) and scored on five of their 19 power plays (26.3 percent).
While the Penguins' roster is filled with players who have won the Stanley Cup, the Blue Jackets have had just one taste of the playoffs as a franchise, a four-game sweep at the hands of Detroit during the 2009 postseason.
The Penguins went 5-0 against the Blue Jackets. They outscored Columbus, 16-7, in those games.
Goals : Sidney Crosby, 36
Assists : Crosby, 68
Points : Crosby, 104
Plus-minus : Matt Niskanen, plus-33
Penalty minutes : Tanner Glass, 90
Goals: Ryan Johansen, 33
Assists: James Wisniewski, 44
Points: Johansen, 63
Plus-minus: Nikita Nikitin, plus-9
Penalty minutes: Brandon Dubinsky, 98
Marc-Andre Fleury: 39-18-5, .915 save percentage, 2.37 goals-against average
Jeff Zatkoff: 12-6-2, .912, 2.61
Sergei Bobrovsky: 32-20-5, .923, 2.38
Curtis McElhinney: 10-11-1, .909, 2.70
This is the first playoff meeting between the two clubs.
Last big game?
Columbus was one of several teams battling for one of the final three playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins clinched the Metropolitan Division on April 3. Before that, the Penguins held a double-digit lead in points for much of the season.
What about Bob?
Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky allowed three goals on 13 shots and was chased three minutes into the second period of a 4-2 Penguins win Nov. 1. He missed the next four meetings with a groin injury and the flu. But Bobrovsky won a career-high 32 games this season. He's 4-0 in his past four, stopping 126 of 132 shots.
Will Flower bloom?
Marc Andre-Fleury's last playoff appearance was a forgettable one — he got pulled for Tomas Vokoun. Fleury opened this season with a career-high five straight home wins and finished with 35 or more victories for the sixth time in his career. Fleury allowed four goals in three games against the Blue Jackets this season, and he's 6-1-1 with a 2.18 goals-average all-time against them. Will the dominance hold up come playoff time?
Will Malkin return?
Evgeni Malkin skated for a sixth straight day prior to Sunday's game against Ottawa. The intensity of the workouts has increased, coach Dan Bylsma said. But Malkin, who hasn't played since March 23 because of a foot injury, has not yet been cleared to return. Adding 72 points to the lineup would be nice for the Penguins. So would Malkin's playmaking for winger James Neal. Neal failed to score a goal in six of the 10 games Malkin has missed since his latest injury.
Breaking down the Penguins' 1st-round playoff series
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