OK, gang, show of hands. How many of you had the Bruins facing the Columbus Blue Jackets in the next round of the Stanley Cup playoffs?
That’s OK. We didn’t either. Fans lamenting how unfair it would be for the Bruins to have to face a Tampa Bay Lightning squad that won 62 games in the regular season in the second round might be feeling a sense of relief after Columbus swept the President’s Trophy winners, but the Blue Jackets will present their own set of problems.
Here’s a look at the Columbus Blue Jackets, who advanced past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in franchise history.
About that team name
So, why are they called the Blue Jackets? It’s a Civil War thing, according to the team’s website. Ohio contributed more of its population to the Union Army than any other state, while many of the Blue Coats worn by the Union soldiers were manufactured in Columbus.
They went all in
As his team scrambled to qualify for the postseason, Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen acquired center Matt Duchene, winger Ryan Dzingel, defenseman Adam McQuaid, and goalie Keith Kinkaid at the trade deadline. It was a bold move, as all four players will be free agents after the season, as will forward Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky.
— x-Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) April 23, 2019
The strategy would pay off, with the Blue Jackets winning seven of their final eight games to finish ahead of the Montreal Canadiens for the final wild-card spot, then sweeping Tampa Bay. Don’t expect to see Kincaid against the Bruins. Bobrovsky went 4-0 against the Lightning, stopping 109 of 117 shots for a .932 save percentage. Duchene led the team in points in the first round with a line of 3-4—7.
Some familiar faces
■ Kekalainen got his start in the NHL with the Bruins, playing 27 games over the course of two seasons (1989-1991), tallying four goals and three assists. He became the first Eurpoean GM in the NHL when the Blue Jackets promoted him in 2013.
■ McQuaid was a fan favorite, playing 462 games over nine seasons with the Bruins before being shipped to the New York Rangers prior to the season. He suited up for 68 playoff games while with the Black and Gold, including 23 for the 2011 Stanley Cup winners. McQuaid has yet to play in the postseason for the Blue Jackets, having been sidelined since March 30 with what is believed to be a concussion.
■ Riley Nash played two seasons with the Bruins after signing as a free agent following the 2016 season. He had a career-best 15 goals and 26 assists for the B’s in the 2017-18 season, then signed with Columbus last offseason. In his first season with the Blue Jackets, he had three goals and nine assists in 78 games.
■ Cam Atkinson played three seasons for Boston College, posting back-to-back 30 goal seasons for the Eagles in 2009-10 and 2010-11. He led the 2010 team in points, scoring 30 goals and 23 assists for a BC team that would win the national championship. Now in his eighth season with the Blue Jackets, he was second on the team in scoring after posting a career-best 41-28—69 line in 80 games this season.
The return of Tortorella
For the first time in six seasons, the Bruins will face Columbus coach John Tortorella, 60, in the postseason. The Massachusetts native was the head coach of the New York Rangers when they faced the Bruins in the second round of the playoffs in 2013. After the Rangers lost in five games, Tortorella was fired. He is now in his fourth season as head coach in Columbus.
Known for his fiery and combative personality, Tortorella does not seem like he is mellowing out. His speech before Game 1 of the Lightning series went viral. There are no shortages of sound bites from Tortorella floating around, with his news conferences a must-watch. Reporters would be wise to have their phones on airplane mode when recording interviews, and to maintain proper hygiene.
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— FOX Sports Ohio (@FOXSportsOH) April 11, 2019
■ Panarin led the team in scoring during the regular season with 28 goals and 59 assists.
■ Columbus had the 28th-ranked power play during the regular season, but converted 5 for 10 against Tampa Bay.
■ Defenseman Seth Jones is the son of former Celtic Popeye Jones.
■ Defenseman Adam Clendening played two seasons (2010-12) at Boston Universtiy.
■ The Bruins and Blue Jackets played each other three times over the final three weeks of the season, with the Bruins winning twice. The 6-2 win on April 2 in the final meeting between the teams wrapped up second place in the Eastern Conference for the Bruins. It is Columbus’s only loss in the last 12 games. Brad Marchand had a goal and an assist to record his first 100-point season.