Playoff Scenarios Abound as Penguins Try for Season Sweep of Jackets

penguins jackets

Matthew Jordan

Wednesday, April 4, 2018 4:37 PM UTC

Wednesday, Apr. 4, 2018 4:37 PM UTC

Home-ice advantage in a potential first-round playoff matchup is on the line Thursday night (7 ET) as Columbus plays its home regular-season finale against Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh (96 points) at Columbus (96 points)Free NHL Pick: Penguins (& Over)Best Line Offered: BetOnline

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Busy 12-game slate around the NHL on Thursday night and few are bigger than Pittsburgh visiting Columbus in their final meeting this season – or is it? It’s a 7 p.m. ET puck drop from Nationwide Arena.

The Penguins go for the four-game regular-season sweep, although two of them were decided in a shootout. The one in Columbus was also the most recent meeting on Feb. 18, a 5-2 Pittsburgh victory. The Pens, playing their third game in four days at the time, won despite being outshot by the Blue Jackets 37-23.

Evgeni Malkin leads Pittsburgh with five points (2 goals, 3 assists) vs. Columbus and Jake Guentzel has four (2 goals, 2 assists). Sidney Crosby hasn’t found the net but has two helpers. Matt Murray is 2-0-0 with a 2.77 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. Rookie Tristan Jerry started the other game.

Artemi Panarin leads Columbus with five points vs. Pittsburgh, four of them goals. No other player has multiple goals. Sergei Bobrovsky is 0-1-2 with a 3.47 GAA and .891 SV. Not typical numbers for one of the NHL’s best netminders.

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Jostling For Position In The Metro

Were the playoffs to start today, these teams would play in the first round as Pittsburgh is second in the Metropolitan Division – the Capitals already have clinched that – and the Blue Jackets third (Pens win tiebreaker). Columbus is looking to reach the Stanley Cup playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time in franchise history. The Jackets lost in five to the Penguins in the first round last year.

Columbus clinches a playoff spot with a victory (or OT/shootout loss; or Panthers loss to Boston) and would claim home-ice advantage in the first round with a win here – the franchise has never had home ice in the postseason -- and then Saturday at the NHL’s best team, Nashville. The Jackets could catch a break in that the Predators might have squat to play for by then as they are close to wrapping up the Presidents’ Trophy. The Penguins close at home Friday against a bad Ottawa team. Pittsburgh clinches home-ice advantage in the first round with a regulation win here and a New Jersey Devils home loss vs. Toronto.

Pittsburgh has the rest advantage for this one as it has been off since losing 3-1 at home to Washington on Sunday – that was the clinching game for the Capitals. The Penguins have the top power play in the NHL but went 0-for-5 with the man advantage. Big trade acquisition Derick Brassard missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury. He has three goals and five assists in 14 games with Pittsburgh since he was acquired from Ottawa.

There will be one familiar face for the Penguins in a Blue Jackets uniform: defenseman Ian Cole. He was a key part of the past two Stanley Cup champion teams but was traded to Ottawa in the Brassard deal (also included Vegas) in late February. The Senators then flipped him a few days later to Columbus.

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.@18Dubois sealed the #CBJ comeback!

— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) April 4, 2018

The Blue Jackets have fallen behind in their past two games 4-1 yet forced overtime in each. They lost Saturday in Vancouver but won Tuesday vs. Detroit. Panarin scored on a rebound late in regulation to tie it vs. the Wings and assisted on Pierre-Luc Dubois' winner 2:55 into OT. Panarin now has 80 points, setting a franchise single-season record.

I see no reason to go against Pittsburgh for a Thursday NHL pick. The Pens are 24-11 vs. Columbus this decade and 10-7 on the road, winning by an average score of in Columbus by 3.4-3.1. Eight of Pittsburgh’s past 10 games overall have gone ‘over’ the total as have seven of Jackets’ past 10. Thus, a lean that way as well.

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