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Preview: Blue Jackets vs. Penguins

Blue Jackets Blue Jackets collide with division foe Penguins in round one action

by Alison Lukan @AlisonL / BlueJackets.com

ROUND 1, GAME 1: BLUE JACKETS VS. PENGUINS

PPG PAINTS ARENA, 7:30 P.M.

TV: FOX SPORTS OHIO / USA NETWORK

RADIO: 97.1 & BLUEJACKETS.COM

LISTEN: #CBJin30 with Bob McElligott

The March is On. The Blue Jackets earned their way back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in three years and will face off against a familiar foe and defending Stanley Cup Champion, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Even before the puck is dropped, this series looks to be one of the most interesting of the post-season. Both teams come from the Metro Division, which sourced three of the top four teams in the league.

PLAYOFF HUB

The Jackets are a confident group that put up a 50-win season for the first time in franchise history. Cam Atkinson (35-27-62) is one of the top ten goalscorers in the league, 19-year-old defenseman Zach Werenski put up 47 points of his own in 78 games, and Sergei Bobrovsky will be in the net. The Jackets' goaltender led the league during the regular season in save percentage (.931) and goals against average (2.06).

But the challenge on the other side is stout. The Penguins are a team that fought their way to a 50-21-11 record in the face of significant injuries throughout their lineup during the regular season. The team will be without Kris Letang in the playoffs. The defenseman is out four to six months after having surgery to repair a herniated disc. But other weapons including defenseman Olli Maata returned to the lineup before seasons' end and Evgeni Malkin is expected to play in Game One Wednesday. Forward Carl Hagelin has started skating and may also be back in the lineup soon.

These are two teams that know each other well. They don't just have that playoff series to feed their growing rivalry, they see each other quite a bit during the regular season and the Jackets have the edge this year going 2-1-1 in the four games played this season.

Here are five things to watch for:

Capitalize on advantages.

In the face of the talent the Penguins have, like Rocket Richard winner Sidney Crosby, the Jackets will look to challenge with their physical play, speed and offensive depth.

"I think we've played the Penguins hard," Scott Hartnell said. "We've played them physical, we've runned and gunned with them. They may have a couple better players than we have on our team but you look at our team collectively and you see we've got a deep team, we've got four lines, a bunch of D, and the best goalie in the league. It's going to be a tight series with some tight games, but I think we're up to the challenge."

Video: Hartsy on using experience against Pittsburgh

Consistent style of play.

Tortorella isn't looking for his team to do much differently than what made them so successful in the regular season, and that includes bringing a physical level of play.

"That's a big part of the foundation of this team," Tortorella said. "That's not running around and taking penalties. We're going to have to be very disciplined against this club. It's going to be very important to be who we are, but not end up sitting in the box."

Fight for the momentum.

"One day at a time" was the mantra all year, and as each game in this series unfolds, Tortorella wants his group to concentrate on gaining, controlling, or fighting for momentum.

"A real important part of hockey is momentum," Tortorella said. "When you have it, if you have a good period you want to get another good period to keep the momentum on your side. So I don't think you get too far ahead of yourself. To me (momentum) is now more magnified. It's not a day at a time, it's one period at a time because I think momentum is that important."

Video: Torts on the team's readiness for the playoffs

Learn tendencies.

The team doesn't plan to alter their preparation much either. This is a group that has always had the primary focus on what they can do and controlling their play throughout the season. In a series, that doesn't change, but facing the same team for at least four games in a row can give you insights on which to capitalize.

"We watch a lot of film looking for tendencies," Hartnell said. "What they're doing and what we're doing is huge this time of year so we have to get that going, pucks on net, just that good feeling that good things are going to happen to us."

This team belongs here.

With a remarkable season behind them, Tortorella's primary responsibility will be reminding this group they've earned the right to fight for the Stanley Cup.

"This is a team with 108 points, and 50 wins," Tortorella said. "They should stick their chest out. they belong where they are right now. That feeling needs to be there when there are some struggles in the series."

Projected Lineup:

 

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