Cody Chalfan The Hockey Writers
Blue Jackets’ History of Facing Championship-Caliber Teams
The Columbus Blue Jackets have only made the postseason five times in their 19 season existence (six if you include this season). In those five appearances, they’ve only advanced to the second round once and have a record of just 12-21.
Related: The Good & the Bad: The Columbus Blue Jackets Under GM Scott Howson
At first glance, you might think the Blue Jackets just aren’t a good playoff team, however, a closer examination might tell you, they’re just outmatched. Four out five times they were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champion or a team that lost in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
This article will explore what opponents they have faced in the postseason, how far they made it, and what factors play into this pattern.
The Blue Jackets’ Opponents
The Blue Jackets have played in very few postseasons, making it easier to look at the teams that have eliminated them. Only two playoff opponents will not be featured in this section; the 2013-14 Pittsburgh Penguins and 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning. Pittsburgh isn’t featured because they didn’t make the Stanley Cup Final and Tampa Bay because the Blue Jackets won that series.
2008-09 Detroit Red Wings
The Columbus Blue Jackets made their first postseason appearance in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were in the Central Division of the Western Conference at the time and drew the Red Wings after finishing fourth in the Division.
Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, they pulled the defending Stanley Cup champions, a team that was third in the league with 112 points (51-21-10), and first with 295 goals. The Red Wings made quick work of the Blue Jackets, sweeping them in the first round, outscoring them 18-7
The Red Wings didn’t stop at the dismantling of the Blue Jackets. They beat the Anaheim Ducks in seven games in the second round and the Chicago Blackhawks in the third round in five. They made it all the way to the Final against the Penguins who defeated them in seven games.
This was the first of many bad first-round draws for the Blue Jackets. The Red Wings were a powerhouse that nearly claimed back-to-back titles if it wasn’t for a Game 7 loss.
Eight seasons and two playoff appearances later, the Blue Jackets got another unfavorable draw. After a franchise-best season (108 points with a record of 50-24-8), they finished third in the Metropolitan Division and faced off against the Penguins in the opening round.
Even though the confidence for the Blue Jackets was high, Pittsburgh made quick work of them. They were defeated in five games while being outscored 21-13. Unlike against the Red Wings, Columbus did win a game in this series, a 5-4 victory in Game 4.
Just like in 2009, this was not a good matchup for the Blue Jackets. The Penguins were on a quest for the Cup. After defeating Columbus, they beat the Washington Capitals in seven games. They then advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals where they defeated the Ottawa Senators, advancing to face the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Final, winning the series in six games.
This was yet another unfavorable draw for the Blue Jackets. Pittsburgh had their eyes on the prize and kept going until they won it all. This would be the first of back-to-back years that Columbus was eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the first round.
The very next season, after finishing the season at 45-30-7 with 97 points (4th place in the Metro Division), the Blue Jackets claimed a wild card spot in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their first-round opponent was the Metropolitan Division-leading Capitals, who finished with 105 points.
Unlike previous opponents, the Blue Jackets stunned Alexander Ovechkin and the Capitals on their home ice, taking a 2-0 series lead. The advantage was short-lived, however. The Capitals quickly rebounded and won four straight games to claim the series victory, outscoring the Blue Jackets 17-9 through those games.
The Capitals were well on their way to winning their franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup after defeating Columbus. They defeated the Penguins in six games in the next round. They then advanced to the Eastern Conference Final where they defeated the Lightning in seven games. Finally, they reached the Stanley Cup Final, where they put an end to the Vegas Golden Knights’ magical inaugural season, defeating them in five games to hoist their franchise’s first Stanley Cup.
This was yet another buzzsaw when it comes to the postseason for Columbus. It was the second year in a row where they met and were defeated by the eventual Cup champion in the first round.
2018-19 Boston Bruins
The next season, Columbus did happen to finally find some success. They swept the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Lightning. They then found themselves in the second round for the first time, facing the Bruins.
The series started good enough for the Blue Jackets. They jumped out to a 2-1 series lead after a win at TD Garden and a home win at Nationwide Arena. The Bruins quickly took back control of the series, however. They won three straight, outscoring the Blue Jackets 11-4 to take the series in six games.
Boston then moved on to face to face the Carolina Hurricanes, who they swept to make the Stanley Cup Final. In the Final, the Bruins met the St. Louis Blues in what would be a classic series. They were defeated in Game 7 at TD Garden by the Blues, who had finally brought a Cup to St. Louis.
Once again, the Blue Jackets were defeated in the playoffs by a team that won the Eastern Conference. As long as this pattern continues, they will find themselves in a struggle to gain any traction in the postseason.
What Creates This Pattern for the Blue Jackets?
Is this pattern just bad luck or is there something else to blame? Multiple reasons factor into this pattern. The strength of opponents and lack of talent being the most notable.
Strength of Opponents
One of the biggest factors for this pattern of tough opponents is simple, many opponents are better or more experienced than the Blue Jackets. The average point total for first-round opponents is 113 and is 112 for playoff opponents overall.
The Blue Jackets have also never faced a team with under 100 points on the season in the postseason. They have even faced the Presidents’ Trophy in the first round, the record-setting Tampa Bay Lightning who won 62 games and had 128 points. Even though they defeated Tampa Bay, it certainly was no easy undertaking for Columbus.
This shows that the Blue Jackets have a history of facing difficult opponents in the postseason. They are facing teams they can’t measure up to in the first round, making any playoff run an uphill battle.
Lack of Talent
Building on the idea of opponents outmatching the Blue Jackets we look towards the lack of talent some of their team’s have had compared to their opponent.
Related: Blue Jackets: Revisiting the Artemi Panarin Trade
In the 2009 playoffs, the Red Wings had a boatload of talent. They had four 30 goal scorers, led by Marian Hossa (40). They also had eight players with over 50 points on the season, their highest scorer being Pavel Datsyuk with 97. Compared to the Blue Jackets who had only one player with over 30 goals and that was Rick Nash with 40. They also only had two players with over 50 points, which was once again led Nash with 79.
The 2016-17 Penguins had two 30 goal scorers including Sidney Crosby with 44. Cam Atkinson was the only one for the Blue Jackets with 35. The Penguins also had five 50-point scorers, the Blue Jackets did as well, but nobody got remotely close to Crosby who had 89. Columbus’ highest point total was 62 (Atkinson).
The 2017-18 Capitals featured only one 30 goal scorer and it was Alexander Ovechkin (49) and the Blue Jackets didn’t have any. The Capitals also had four players with 50 points, led by Ovechkin, who had 87. The Blue Jackets had only two players with 50 points, Artemi Panarin with 82 and Seth Jones with 57.
The 2018-19 Boston Bruins had three 30 goal scorers, David Pastrnak had the most with 38. The Bruins also had five players with 50 points, led by Brad Marchand who had 100 points. To compare, Columbus has one 30 goal scorer (Atkinson with 41) and only three players with 50 or more points (led by Panarin with 87).
The Columbus Blue Jackets just have not had the kind of talent their postseason opponents have had. A lack of talent against other highly talented teams is a recipe for disaster in the playoffs.
Every year the Blue Jackets continue to find themselves getting farther and farther into the playoffs. With a load of young talent with offensive promise and skill, the Blue Jackets will continue to grow and before long this pattern will be in the past.
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