It’s never easy in the postseason.
It’s not supposed to be and it won’t be this time, either.
But, relatively speaking, there wasn’t an easier matchup in the bracket for the Penguins than a first-round series against Columbus.
The Blue Jackets haven’t had a losing month since November, so they’re a worthy participant.
But the Blue Jackets are also a franchise that’s never won a postseason game, one that’s never even had a lead in a postseason game.
That may change this time but if the series goes longer than five games it’ll be a surprise.
The Blue Jackets are young and hungry and they’re hard to play against. They’re building a contender and they’re headed in the right direction.
But they’re not ready for the Penguins, assuming the Penguins are at all representative in this series of what they’re capable of being.
Columbus has a couple of talented, attention-getting players in Ryan Johansen (21), Boone Jenner (20) and Ryan Murray (20). The Blue Jackets’ problem in this series is those designations are ages, not jersey numbers.
That stat of the series might be this: Sidney Crosby has more career playoff goals on his resume (40) than the most experienced of the available Blue Jackets has career postseason games (Brandon Dubinsky, 31).
Columbus will attempt to counter its inexperience with energy and urgency. The Blue Jackets will forecheck and they’ll play an in-your-face game (they led the NHL with 2,609 regular-season hits) when applicable. They’ve also apparently grasped the importance of puck management (446 giveaways, second-fewest in the league).
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is the Blue Jackets’ X-factor. He won the Vezina Trophy last season and he played just 23:01 of the Blue Jackets’ 0-5 showing against the Penguins this season.
But Bobrovsky is 0-2 with a 4.04 goals-against average and a.848 save percentage in his postseason career.
He’s not exactly a proven commodity in the postseason, either.
All of that should add up to the Penguins winning a succession of close, hard-fought games.
If they play with patience and discipline, if they think defense first and let their skill take over as the games progress it shouldn’t require more than five to dust Columbus.
If they don’t, they’ll get what they deserve.