In their nearly 20-year existence, the Columbus Blue Jackets had never been able to advance to the second round of the playoffs…until this year. Not only did they set some team history by finally reaching that accomplishment, they did so in eyebrow-raising fashion. To start with, they swept their opponent. Secondly, they didn’t just sweep an opponent, they took out the President Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning. For the inundated, the President’s Trophy goes to the team with the best regular season record. I’m no bookmaker, but I said back in October that Tampa would win the Cup in the ‘18-‘19 season. I’m also not psychic, which was proven by the Lightning’s end result, one I was very happy to be quite wrong about.
However, with the Blue Jackets’ mighty victory over their first-round opposition comes a problem that will reveal its true nature in the second round. Columbus will face the winner of the Toronto/Boston series later this week. It has been a hard fought, back and forth matchup that Toronto looked to have in the bag before the scrappy, underdog Bruins had something else to say about it, winning Game 6 and forcing a Game 7 tomorrow night. This predicament has brought up the old rest vs. rust argument that is now facing the Blue Jackets.
On one side, you have those who are adamant that time to prepare for the next round is crucial, especially if your roster is facing injuries. Thankfully the latter is not a dilemma for Columbus right now. Still, one would venture to guess that the more footage that exists on the Maple Leafs and Bruins is more fuel for the analysis fire. In short, Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella would have more to reference when preparing for either team. Personally, I think that’s a fable, and here’s why.
Neither Toronto nor Boston have changed very much in their style of play throughout the season. There are 82 games worth of video to absorb from each team. You know what you are getting by now in either adversary. The bigger issue, and one that I’m sure Tortorella has been contemplating, is that of complacency. By the time Round 2 starts, Columbus would have had well over a week off. That is a LOT of time.
Hockey is a game of momentum. It is just as relevant going from one playoff series to another as it is during a game. The Blue Jackets got hot at just the right time at the end of the season. A fear many have, yours truly included, is that the quick victory over the Lightning (and resulting break) will have cooled Columbus, giving either Toronto or Boston an advantage when that series starts. I would be ecstatic to be proven wrong once again, though after watching the sport for the last 27 years, I know better.
Part of me wants to face the Maple Leafs, as I feel we match up better against them. I suppose I want that easier route. My gut tells me we will be facing the Bruins, as they are the team that just won’t go away. As the old saying goes though, if you want to be the best, you need to beat the best. The Blue Jackets already did that by virtue of season record in Round 1. Now let’s see if they can handle what awaits them next.