Blue Jackets Are In New Territory

Since Game 1 of their first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Columbus Blue Jackets have gone through new experiences. Let’s take a quick look back at some firsts for the franchise.

  • Game 1 vs. Tampa Bay: First time winning a playoff game down by three goals.
  • Game 3 vs. Tampa Bay: First time being up 3-0 in a playoff series.
  • Game 4 vs. Tampa Bay: First time winning a playoff series.
  • Game 1 vs. Boston: First time ever playing in the second round.
  • Game 2 vs. Boston: First time winning in the second round.
  • Game 3 vs. Boston: First time leading a second round series.

With every game that comes up now, there will be a new experience of some kind. As we get ready for Game 5, that’s one of the questions facing the Columbus Blue Jackets. They’re talented, but they’re new to these intense experiences. Their opponent is not new to these experiences.

Can the Blue Jackets find a way to overcome the gap in experience the Bruins have? They’ve been there and done that. They used Game 4 to remind everyone just how experienced they are.

Quick Game 4 Recap

The Blue Jackets had the momentum and home ice advantage. The crowd was rocking. The atmosphere was set for the Blue Jackets to try to take a 3-1 lead.

But it was the Bruins who quickly went up 2-0 in Game 4. They quieted the crowd. They played with purpose. Their best players were their best players and then some. They even survived a goal that should have never happened.

The Blue Jackets made it 2-1 on a controversial goal by Artemi Panarin. The puck hit the mesh but none of the four officials saw it. Oliver Bjorkstrand found the puck and hit Panarin. The Bruins protested but to no prevail.

Here’s what stands out. It didn’t affect them. In fact, their play got better, especially their goaltender Tuukka Rask. They moved on and got down to business. They didn’t allow the Blue Jackets to score another goal on way to a 4-1 win to even the series.

Here is the thing that stood out to me postgame.

Recall after Game 1’s loss that the Blue Jackets didn’t show this kind of emotion. They knew it was a long series and plenty of time to come back. The stakes are different now. It’s a best-of-three series with the winner advancing to the final four.

The Bruins Clear Advantage

That’s the one clear advantage the Bruins have. Patrice Bergeron. Brad Marchand. Zdeno Chara. Others. This is a highly-experienced group. Not that this is the only factor that will decide this series, but it will sure help the Bruins. The moment is not too big for them.

The Blue Jackets have talent. The Blue Jackets have a good leadership core. But they do not have players like Bergeron, Marchand and others who have a bevy of playoff experience. Bergeron will be playing his 124th playoff game Saturday. Marchand will be playing in his 96th playoff game. Meanwhile Chara will suit up in his 171st playoff game.

For comparison sake, Adam McQuaid has 68 games of experience, but is currently injured. Brandon Dubinsky will play in his 57th game Saturday.

Here’s the question. Will the moment get too big for these Blue Jackets given how young they still are going up against a team who knows how to handle the moment?

Recall it was just last year that the Blue Jackets found themselves in a 2-2 series after losing Game 4. They went on to lose Game 5 in overtime and Game 6 at home against the Capitals. It eventually fell apart. Can they take that lesson and apply that to this series?

Boston Bruins' Zdeno Chara Patrice Bergeron
If the Blue Jackets want to advance, they must bridge the experience gap. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Winslow Townson)

Deciding the Series

The Blue Jackets have to dig in. They can play better. But can they keep frustration out of their game when things go south? The thing that will decide this series to me is how momentum is handled the rest of the way. If the Blue Jackets keep composed, they’re good enough to win. If they allow Boston early momentum, it could get ugly.

The start of Game 5 is crucial. The Blue Jackets need to play tied or with the lead in the first period. They must also stay out of the box. While being physical is important, restraint will be important if it means not taking a penalty. It’s not always a bad thing to dial it back some if it means staying at 5-on-5.

The mental part of the game will be on full display for the rest of this series. Whoever comes out on top there will likely win this series. It’s not new for Boston. It is new for Columbus. Can the Blue Jackets overcome their gap in experience to make the Eastern Conference Finals?

We’ll start to find out Saturday night.