4 down. 12 to go. Your defending Stanley Cup champions have officially moved one step closer to repeating tonight by eliminating the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1. And by all assessments, it was a good ol’ fashioned ass whooping. I’m sure a lot of Blue Jackets fans feel slighted right now considering they had to face off against the Penguins in Round 1. Look, it’s definitely not an ideal scenario for two teams that finished top-4 in points in the regular season to meet in Round 1 of the playoffs, but hey, that’s the way the playoff system is formatted. The new playoff system (which was implemented in 2014) is set up so division foes earn their right to punch a ticket to the conference finals. It’s essentially a way for the league to create additional rivalry matchups in higher stakes games, which ultimately equals more revenue for all parties involved. Typically a win-win scenario, except when you have years like this season where three out of the top four teams in the entire league come out of one division.
Faulty playoff system aside, let’s not kid ourselves, the Penguins kicked the shit out of the Blue Jackets this series without the help of their starting goaltender and best defenseman. Columbus was a great team and all in the regular season, but there’s no way they were going to win a playoff series against any team, let alone the Penguins, when their Vezina-winning goaltender drops from a .931 save percentage in the regular season to .890 in the playoffs. On top of that, their top regular season scorers (Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg, and Brandon Saad) combined for a mere seven points in five playoff games. To put that in perspective, Evgeni Malkin had 11. The Blue Jackets can put the blame on the NHL all they want, but, the reality is, they sucked.
We’ll find out soon enough whether it’ll be the Caps or Leafs in Round 2, but for now, let’s all soak this one in.