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Round 1: Blue Jackets vs. Penguins NHL Playoff Series Gambling Prediction & Lines

NHL Playoffs – Columbus vs Pittsburgh Picks

On the surface, the opening round playoff series between Metropolitan Division rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets has the makings of a blowout. The Penguins took all five regular season meetings between the teams by a score of 16-7.

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Odds
Series: Pittsburgh -240, Columbus +200
Conference: Pittsburgh +250, Columbus +2000
Stanley Cup: Pittsburgh +700, Columbus +5200

In fact, Penguins captain Sidney Crosby has just one loss to the Blue Jackets in his career, and that came way back in his rookie campaign.

Something that may come as a surprise is that the Blue Jackets actually outshot that Penguins in the series, 155-145, and top goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky appeared in only one of those games.

The Penguins have had some troubles in the first round in recent years, and the Blue Jackets are hoping to be the latest team to give them issues in the opening round. Here is a breakdown of how the series is expected to play out.

Forwards

Sidney Crosby already has the Art Ross Trophy locked up. The Hart Trophy is all but his as well. But he would like to add some more hardware to his collection. Namely, a second Stanley Cup. Evgeni Malkin is also expected back in the early part of this series, possibly Game 1, after missing the final 11 games of the regular season with a foot injury. There’s plenty of talent beyond those top two centers, with the likes of Chris Kunitz, James Neal, and Jussi Jokinen making the Penguins one of the most dominant offensive teams in hockey. Beyond that, the team’s bottom six forwards have been pointed to as a weakness.

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As for the Blue Jackets, they are coming off a season in which they scored a franchise record 226 goals, with seven players scoring at least 16 goals. Ryan Johansen in particular was a pleasant surprise, leading the club with 33 goals. The bad news is that the team will be without Nathan Horton for the foreseeable future as he still has another five weeks of recovery time to get through after undergoing surgery a week ago. Even still, depth at the forward position is an edge for the Blue Jackets that they will need to exploit.

Defensemen

The return of Kris Letang is a major boost to the Penguins’ blue line. Matt Niskanen filled in admirably in his place, but his absence really exposed the team’s lack of depth at the position. Paul Martin is also back after missing 18 games with a broken hand. Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi both have championship pedigrees playing out of their own zone.
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Jack Johnson really took a step forward for the Blue Jackets in the second half of the season. While the forwards helped the team to a franchise record in goal scored, the team’s back end helped it to a franchise record in hits. The team’s defensive corps can also contribute at the offensive end, thanks to the likes of Johnson, James Wisniewski, and Fedor Tyutin.

Goaltenders

Marc-Andre Fleury is the wild card in any postseason series the Penguins participate in. His 3.18 GAA and .880 save percentage in 31 playoff appearances since 2010 is nowhere close to where it needs to be. Even worse, he’s posted a 4.11 GAA and .857 save percentage in 11 playoff appearances over his past two postseasons. Tomas Vokoun’s call up on Monday doesn’t bode well for the team’s confidence in Fleury.

Sergei Bobrovsky is the defending Vezina Trophy winner, and proved that he didn’t just get lucky last season. He recorded five shutouts while posting a .923 save percentage during the regular season. While representing Russia at the Olympics in Sochi, Bobrovsky posted a 1.15 GAA and .952 save percentage.

Series Prediction

This series is the Penguins’ to lose, but the Jackets can steal this one if they get enough of an edge between the pipes. The Penguins come in as heavy favorites, but they are not short on flaws.

Series prediction: Penguins win 4-1

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