Penguins say playoff series against Columbus could fuel rivalry
Meeting here and there during the regular season doesn't ignite a rivalry.
But by playing the Columbus Blue Jackets for the first time in a playoff series, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma figures this might be enough to create animosity with his team's closest geographic rival.
“Having played in places like Anaheim and L.A., you can't get (a rivalry) without getting the playoff matchup,” Bylsma said. “Once you get that animosity there, once you get that playoff (matchup), now you're going to have a rivalry.”
Time will tell whether this one turns into anything substantial.
Last night's overtime game, which ended too late for this edition, should help to further that cause.
Same for the five guaranteed meetings every season because Pittsburgh and Columbus are now in the same division.
The Penguins (51-24-6, 108 points) won all five meetings this season by a combined score of 16-7.
With the NHL realigning divisions prior to this season, Columbus moved into the Eastern Conference and finished fourth in the Metropolitan Division.
“I think having them be in our division for the first time this year, you want to build a rivalry right off the hop,” Bylsma said. “You play them in the preseason like we have in the past, maybe even one time in our division … it hasn't been the same rivalry type of matchup as Philadelphia or even Washington.
“Now you're getting a playoff series against them. I think proximity and the closeness, our fans, their fans … you're going to get that animosity and playoff-type of rivalry from the close proximity.”
The Penguins are 15-3-1 all time against Columbus.
They trailed for all of 56 seconds in dominating the season series in 2013-14, although Blue Jackets starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has played just 13 minutes against the Penguins this season because of a groin injury and the flu.
One of the biggest factors during the regular season was the Penguins' penalty kill, which held Columbus to one goal in 14 chances (7.1 percent). The Blue Jackets actually outshot Pittsburgh, 155-145, during the five-game series.
Center Ryan Johansen, who is 21, led Columbus with 33 goals. Defenseman James Wisniewski had a team-high 44 assists.
“They have a good, fast team. They've got skill,” Penguins winger Harry Zolnierczyk said. “They're a team you can't let linger around. You let them linger around, and as of late, they've been able to score. You have to make sure you dictate the game and not let them get going.”
Blue Jackets games at Nationwide Arena routinely feature Penguins fans who are transplants or willing to make the drive: doable in under three hours.
The atmosphere — the team's goal cannon not included — usually doesn't lack for excitement.
Upon learning Saturday night that Columbus would be the Penguins' first-round opponent, winger Jayson Megna said he started thinking back to those five games and how they may play into the current series.
“They're a very good team,” Megna said. “I think they had a really good year. I think that it's going to be a great matchup for us. It'll be a great series. It's going to be a hard-fought series.
“It's a great atmosphere there. They have a great following. We have an excellent following. They're so close together that it should make for a great playoff matchup.”
Jason Mackey is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Mackey_Trib.
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