The Columbus Blue Jackets finally have a second-round opponent. The Boston Bruins finally knocked out the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The two teams finally get it on at TD Garden starting Thursday.
The Blue Jackets come in off a long nine-day layoff after sweeping away the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bruins last played Tuesday night.
Who will have the early advantage? Can the Blue Jackets turn the switch on after such a long time off? Will the Bruins feel the effects of a seven-game series at the start?
As this series starts, this is what I’ll be watching for. Which team can get the jump and play from ahead?
What else am I watching for? Here are four other things that I think will help decide this series.
Who Will Defend Bergeron/Marchand?
In the tough minutes of their series against the Lightning, the Blue Jackets leaned heavily on the line of Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky and Riley Nash. They are three natural centermen who could focus on playing defense. But will they face the Patrice Bergeron line or will the Blue Jackets try Matt Duchene against Bergeron in a heads-up role?
It’ll be interesting to see how Tortorella defends this line. I would expect a similar defensive game plan to the one implemented against the Lightning. The Blue Jackets played a lot of 1-2-2 and made the neutral zone an area of quick sand.
They were successful in slowing down one of the best teams in NHL history with this method. Why change a good thing? If they can help it, they want to make a different line beat them. How can they do that? Make them play defense. That’s why I think one of the Blue Jackets’ offensive lines will get first crack, but we’ll see.
Who Can Win a Battle?
This is going to be a physical series. Both teams can play the body with the best of them. Both teams have depth that can score. When two teams are evenly matched in depth, what will help decide who has the advantage?
It’s the team who wins those greasy 50/50 battles. It’s the team that can take advantage of turnovers. It’s the team that can earn power play chances by outworking their opponent. Bring your hard hats to this one. Both teams will not shy away from this.
Oh, and Zdeno Chara and Josh Anderson will likely fight at some point. It’s happened before.
Blue Jacket to Watch: Oliver Bjorkstrand
Don’t be surprised if you see Bjorkstrand score a big goal in this series. He’s made for big moments. He’s now confident and showing it in his play.
When the Blue Jackets needed a response in Game 4 against the Lightning, Bjorkstrand scored the winning goal. He’s a threat to score every time he touches the puck.
While the focus will be on Cam Atkinson, Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and others, Bjorkstrand arguably has a better shot than all of them. The Bruins better account for him.
Bruin to Watch: Brandon Carlo
You think of the Bruins defense, you think of the obvious names. Those are Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug. Brandon Carlo is having himself a monster season.
He was especially noticeable against the Maple Leafs for all the right reasons. Although the points aren’t there, his impact is massive.
He plays 23-24 minutes a game. He blocks shots. He can create offense. He can create turnovers. This allows the Bruins to have two shutdown pairs.
The Blue Jackets will need to find a way to make things happen against a stout defense. Don’t be surprised if by the end of the series Carlo had a big impact without producing many points. He’s been outstanding.
Game 1 is Thursday and Game 2 is Saturday in Boston. Although I will not make an official prediction in this series, I will say it goes at least six games. This is going to be a fight and who is the last man standing. The winner of this series will have a very good chance at winning the Stanley Cup.
Do the Blue Jackets have something Bruin, or will the Bruins make the Jackets feel Blue? Thursday night, we start to find out.