BLUE JACKETS (43-32-7) at PENGUINS (51-24-7)
TV: NBCSN, CBC, ROOT, FS-O
Last 10: Columbus 6-3-1, Pittsburgh 5-3-2
Season series: The Pittsburgh Penguins swept a five-game season series against their Metropolitan Division rivals, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus goalie Sergei Bobrovsky started just one of those games, surrendering three goals on 13 shots before being pulled in a 4-2 loss on Nov. 1.
Big story: The Penguins will attempt to begin their Stanley Cup Playoffs run on a positive note after being swept by the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Eastern Conference Final. Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is looking to bounce back from a forgettable postseason in which he allowed an average of 4.25 goals in four appearances after shutting out the New York Islanders in Game 1 of their first-round series.
"I think when the playoffs come around, goalies are looked at a lot," Fleury said. "I'm looking forward to getting back in there. I'm looking forward to the game and to the challenge. I'm just excited to play the first game.
"I don't read too much, I don't watch you guys too much and I, myself, have one more Stanley Cup than a lot of people, so I know we can do it and I know we have a solid team."
The Blue Jackets will look to earn their first playoff win in franchise history. Columbus was swept in the first round back by the Detroit Red Wings in 2009, its only previous postseason appearance.
Penguins: Pittsburgh cruised to its Metropolitan Division championship and the Eastern Conference's second seed, but didn't play well over the season's final two months. The Penguins went 11-9-3 in March and April, but finished tied with the Washington Capitals for the NHL's top power play (23.4 percent).
Pittsburgh's once top-ranked penalty kill slipped to fifth in recent weeks. But despite a few areas of concern, a bulk of the Penguins lineup is experienced in playoff hockey, with the majority playing in last postseason's Eastern Conference Final, and Fleury rebounded from a five-start winless stretch by going 5-1-1 in his final seven starts.
Blue Jackets: Unlike Pittsburgh, Columbus finished its season on a high note by winning four of its final five games. It finished near the middle of the NHL standings in goals per game (12th) and goals allowed per game (13th). Bobrovsky wasn't able to replicate his performance from his Vezina Trophy-winning season, partially due to time missed with a strained groin, but won five of his past six starts with two shutouts over that stretch.
Columbus is comparatively new to playoff hockey and will need to adapt to the increased speed and intensity it brings. But Penguins captain Sidney Crosby doesn't expect the disparity in experience to affect the Blue Jackets' performance.
"I remember playing in Ottawa [in 2006-07]. That was quite the eye-opener," Crosby said. "It felt like there was 10 guys on their team on the ice, so it was a little bit different. But I think with a team that's had to work so hard and battled to get in the playoffs, I think they're already in that mode. So, it might not be quite as much of a jump."
Rookie left wing Boone Jenner believes the Blue Jackets will be prepared
"We've talked to some guys in here who've played in some playoff games," he said. "We know it's going to be a lot more intense."
Who's hot: Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen closed the regular season by scoring a point in each of his past five games and a goal in each of his past three. Jokinen finished the season with his second-most points (57) and goals (21) in a season … Blue Jackets forward Ryan Johansen scored at least one point in each of his final six games of the season while leading Columbus with 63 points and 33 goals on the season.
Injury report: Penguins forwards Evgeni Malkin (foot) and Joe Vitale (mid body) appear likely to play in Game 1. Goalie Tomas Vokoun (blood clot) has rejoined the Penguins, but will not practice every day. Pittsburgh will be without forwards Marcel Goc (foot) and Chris Conner (foot) … Blue Jackets forwards Nick Foligno (lower body) and RJ Umberger (upper body) will miss the series opener but are possibilities for Game 2 on Saturday. Forward Nathan Horton (abdomen) had surgery last week and could miss the entire playoffs.