With only 15 games left in the regular season, the Pittsburgh Penguins have won three straight and earned points in eight of their last 10. Despite suffering some key injuries, they have been able to keep pace in a wild Eastern Conference. With less than 20 percent of the season remaining, the Penguins are already in playoff mode and cannot afford to lose any ground on their division rivals.
Thankfully, they have completely owned the Columbus Blue Jackets the last two seasons and it is propelling them into the playoffs. With a 3-0 victory on March 7, the Penguins secured their eighth straight win over the Blue Jackets, and since the formation of the Metropolitan Division, are now 17-4-3 against them in the regular season. If you add in the Penguins two first-round series wins over the Blue Jackets in 2014 and 2017, it’s difficult to really call it a rivalry.
EIGHT STRAIGHT VICTORIES OVER COLUMBUS!
And each one gets sweeter and sweeter. pic.twitter.com/xBuMF6wZGe
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) March 8, 2019
The Blue Jackets made the biggest splash around the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline by acquiring Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid and Keith Kinkaid, but have gone 2-4 since the deadline and have yet to win a game in regulation. While the all-in tactic is admirable, it has yet to pay off in victories.
Matt Murray Has Stonewalled the Jackets
Ever since Marc Andre-Fleury was selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the 2017 Expansion Draft, there has been continuous debate in the Steel City about whether or not keeping Matt Murray was the right decision. Frankly, I believe that Murray does not get the admiration from Penguins fans that he deserves. Whenever he faces the Blue Jackets, he always seems to do just enough to win.
This season, Murray was injured for the Penguins first meeting with the Blue Jackets, but led them to a pair of wins in their next two meetings. In those two wins, he stopped 46 of 48 shots, and on March 7, he earned his 10th career shutout. The only glaring negative aspect of his game has been his rebound control, which has been a bit inconsistent, but by focusing on saving the first shot and trusting the defense in front of him, he has minimized the damage.
It’s not just this season in which Murray has found success against the Blue Jackets. Over the course of his career, he is 8-1-1 against Columbus, and while his stats are not spectacular (2.60 goals-against average, .913 save percentage), they are good enough to continuously beat one of the most important teams in the Penguins’ path to the postseason.
Blue Jackets Have No Answer for Sidney Crosby
Murray has not been the only Achilles’ heel for the Blue Jackets whenever they face the Penguins; Sidney Crosby has consistently put on a show whenever the two teams face-off. In their most recent 3-0 victory, Crosby tallied the empty-net goal, which extended his current goal-scoring streak to six games, and he was the most dominant player on the ice every shift.
He may not have shown up on the scoresheet until the last minute of the game, but it was obvious that the Blue Jackets had no answers for him whenever he was on the ice. He continuously kept the play in the offensive zone and created numerous scoring chances for his linemates. In the past, Brandon Dubinsky was the man who drew the lucky responsibility of attempting to shadow the best player in the world, but that experiment failed numerous times.
This season, Crosby has two goals, three assists and a plus-four rating in three games against the Blue Jackets and has been the key reason to their three wins. Over the course of the past five regular seasons, he has 15 points in 17 games and has had plenty of memorable moments against the Penguins’ Metropolitan Division ‘rival.’ While the points are great, Crosby’s fight against Dubinsky in 2015 is what really defines his hatred for the Blue Jackets.
The playoff race in the Eastern Conference is likely going to come down to the final game of the season. The Metropolitan Division is currently the closest division in the NHL with only eight points separating first and fifth place. The Penguins and Blue Jackets will have their final meeting of the season on March 9, and with a ninth straight victory over Columbus, the Penguins could edge themselves within two points of first place in the division.