A rusty start. A better middle. A rough ending. That’s how one could summarize Game 1 for the Columbus Blue Jackets in their series against the Boston Bruins.
As many expected, the Blue Jackets looked like a team who had nine days since their last game. The Bruins took advantage of that situation and gained a 1-0 lead while badly outplaying the Blue Jackets for long stretches early.
Then as you would expect, the tide started to turn. The Blue Jackets found their legs and played some good minutes. This helped them grab a 2-1 lead in a flash in the third period. Momentum had swung to their side.
Then they tried to play prevent against the Bruins. That’s usually not a wise idea. Charlie Coyle made them pay.
Thanks to a couple of late mistakes, Coyle netted the tying goal in the third and the winning goal in overtime to send the Bruins to an important Game 1 win. The Blue Jackets’ two best defenders, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, each made mistakes on the goals. That’s playoff hockey for you. The margin for error is razor thin at all times. Even a half second hesitation will cost you everything.
Even though the game didn’t go the Blue Jackets’ way, they still took the Bruins to overtime while playing way under how they’re capable of playing. This bodes well for the rest of the series assuming they avoid the crippling mistake.
Why should these Blue Jackets be optimistic about the rest of the series? Here are three things they can hang their hat on moving forward.
Jones & Werenski Owned Their Mistakes
This perhaps was my biggest takeaway of Game 1 from a Blue Jackets’ standpoint. Both Jones and Werenski owned their mistakes that cost the team the game. They held themselves accountable for it and will take it as a learning experience.
There was no hiding from what happened. They were asked about the plays and they met it head on with the media. That is a sign of just how much each have developed as leaders on this team.
Accountability is present all throughout the Blue Jackets’ room. It’s part of their culture now. Management demands it. John Tortorella demands it. It’s a wonderful thing to have when it’s the gold standard.
Both defensemen have played very well down the stretch and early in the playoffs. Thursday served as a reminder that there are always lessons to be learned. The Blue Jackets should be optimistic because both Jones and Werenski should be much better for the rest of this series thanks to this lesson learned. You have got to be decisive in your decision-making. They know that and will apply that. Their best is yet to come.
Sergei Bobrovsky was by far the Blue Jackets’ best player on the ice in Game 1. He made several key saves early to keep the game 1-0. He could not be faulted for any of the three goals against.
We are finally starting to see glimpses of what Bobrovsky can do. His playoff past is well documented. But with a new contract on the line, he’s playing like someone who wants $10 million per season moving forward. If he can continue this kind of performance, the Blue Jackets will be in every game with a chance to win. Think he has something to prove? Some of those saves he made early while his teammates were struggling is enough reason for optimism in this series. He’s good enough to win a series by himself if he’s right.
To this point, he’s showing he’s right. Now his teammates need to follow suit. Speaking of them…
Forwards Will Improve
With the exception of the fourth line, the Blue Jackets’ forwards were awful on Thursday. That was about as bad a performance I’ve seen from them collectively since the Edmonton game. They played chase most of the night and got burned for it.
It did slightly improve as the night went on, but not by very much. If there’s a reason for optimism here, it’s that Game 1 was about rock bottom for these forwards. Yet they still took the Bruins to overtime in their rink. There is too much talent on this roster for it not to do something. They only have one direction they can go.
Another reason to be optimistic? The Blue Jackets still haven’t lost in regulation in these playoffs. If I would have offered this scenario to you that come Game 2 of Round 2 you’d have no regulation losses, you’d happily sign up. That’s where we are.
Game 2 goes Saturday night and it’s an important one for the Blue Jackets. It’s not a must-win but it’s pretty close. They have a chance to take home-ice advantage away while tying the series.
And given how fresh they should be, the Bruins want to end this quickly. A Game 2 win would ensure the series goes at least five then who knows what happens?
What kind of response will these Blue Jackets provide? Based on the above reasons for optimism, expect a bounce back. They’re not going away, not anytime soon.