COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets continue to journey deeper into uncharted territory with each win in these playoffs.
Among the franchise firsts so far: Winning a playoff series (they swept Tampa Bay in the opening round), first appearance in the second round, first second-round game played — and won — at home. And Thursday night, it will be the first time many of the young Blue Jackets have played a meaningful game in the month of May. No Columbus player has played this late in 18 years of the team’s existence.
“I think they’re having fun,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “A lot of firsts. It’s a young group that really hasn’t had a lot of experience with it.”
Columbus beat Boston in their Eastern Conference semifinal series Tuesday and will try to extend the 2-1 series lead when they meet for Game 4 at Nationwide Arena.
Most of the Blue Jackets players haven’t been here before, but they have gone toe-to-toe with the playoff-savvy Bruins in games where tenacious forechecking has left little room for either team to operate. Each game has been decided by one goal, and the first two went to overtime.
“I hope they enjoyed themselves last night,” Tortorella said Wednesday. “They should feel good about themselves. But these games could be going either way, and I think they are smart enough to realize that.”
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been a beast for Columbus and is having the best postseason of his career. It’s his first time playing in the second round, too, and his numbers are sterling: His .937 save percentage and goals-against average of 1.88 are second in the playoffs to the New York Islanders’ Robin Lehner and are better than Bobrovsky’s performance in the regular season (.913, 2.58). He is 6-1 in the postseason, a far cry from his 5-14 mark in previous playoff games.
His counterpart, Tuukka Rask, has been strong, too, with a .928 save percentage (fourth in the playoffs) and a 2.22 GAA. Rask said he thinks the pucks will start falling Boston’s way eventually in this series. He said his guys aren’t agitated by their failure so far to beat Bobrovsky when it counted.
“I don’t think we’ve been frustrated,” he said. “You have to play a different game (in the playoffs). There’s no time and space to go through defensemen and make plays and have that extra second. You have to play more straightforward and maybe be more shot-oriented and fight for the rebounds.”
In Thursday’s other game, the San Jose Sharks visit the Colorado Avalanche in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal series. The Sharks lead 2-1.
Neither of these teams want to hear about personal accolades.
For instance: With his goal in Game 3 on Tuesday, Colorado forward Nathan MacKinnon has at least a point in seven straight games. It’s the longest point streak by an Avalanche player since Peter Forsberg’s seven-game streak in 2004.
“I don’t care,” MacKinnon said.
On the other side of the ice, Sharks forward Logan Couture is coming off a hat trick. He has a playoff-leading nine goals through 10 games.
“I don’t care what my numbers get to be,” Couture said. “This is what you play hockey for. This is what you play 82 games for. I’ve been fortunate enough to play on some very good teams, and we’ve only missed the playoffs once since I’ve been in San Jose, and these games are so much fun. You’re playing for the ultimate prize.”
The Sharks have been successful limiting Colorado’s shot chances. Asked what the defense is doing right, Sharks coach Peter DeBoer simply said: “I’ll tell you after the series.”
“We’re working hard away from the puck,” he added. “We’re working as a five-man unit. You saw how dangerous they are when you give them room, and we know that and we’re working to trying to eliminate that.”