When the Blue Jackets arrive to take on the Boston Bruins on Thursday night in their second-round opener, they will face a team that needs little introduction.
Through a quirk of the NHL schedule, the Jackets and Bruins played three times in the final month of the season. Each team earned a big win against the other in the three-game series -- Columbus took a 7-4 win March 12 while Boston dealt Columbus its only loss of the past 12 games, a 6-2 final April 2 -- while the middle game went to overtime March 16 before the Bruins captured a 2-1 victory.
In other words, these teams are pretty familiar with one another, and Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella had high praise for the Bruins after they earned the win late in the season in Nationwide Arena.
"Other than Tampa," Tortorella said, "I think they're probably the best team in the National Hockey League."
The Blue Jackets have already dispatched the Lightning; now comes the team that tied for second in the NHL in points behind the Bolts. Boston advanced thanks to a seven-game series win over Toronto that finished up with a 5-1 Bruins win on Tuesday night.
Here's a look back at the regular-season series between the teams plus things to know about the Bruins heading into the matchup.
GAME 1 HUB: Highlights, tweets, and news
The season series
Boston took four points while Columbus earned three in the three-game series. Here's a look at each game.
March 12: Columbus earns 7-4 win in Nationwide Arena: One night after being shut out on Long Island, the Blue Jackets came home and exploded offensively in a much-needed victory. Boston scored a shorthanded goal early but Columbus bounced back with five consecutive goals by Josh Anderson, Ryan Dzingel, Boone Jenner, Matt Duchene and Jenner again to chase Tuukka Rask. The Bruins drew three goals back by the end of the second, but Columbus got a late power-play goal from Zach Werenski before Jenner completed the hat trick with an empty-net goal. Artemi Panarin also dropped the gloves for the first time in his career, fighting Charlie McAvoy in the second period.
Video: Jenner's hat trick lifts Blue Jackets by Bruins, 7-4
March 16: Boston earns 2-1 overtime win at TD Garden: On the second night of a back-to-back and at the start of a 10-day, four-city road trip, Columbus battled the Bruins to a 1-1 draw through 60 minutes before Brad Marchand's goal in OT gave the Bruins the win. The Bruins got an early goal against Joonas Korpisalo before Duchene tied the game with a fantastic individual effort late in the first. The teams went back and forth from there before Marchand's OT winner. Korpisalo made 31 saves.
April 2: Boston earns a 6-2 win in Nationwide Arena: In the third-to-last game of the regular season, Columbus was behind the 8-ball early as a shot by Jake DeBrusk deflected in front of the net, landed on top of the net, then bounced back onto the shoulder of Sergei Bobrovsky and rolled in for a goal. From there, the Jackets were chasing the game and Boston made them pay, as DeBrusk scored twice and the Bruins glided away to a win in which Bobrovsky was pulled in the second period. Oliver Bjorkstrand and Duchene scored in the third period, but it was 5-0 by that point.
PLAYOFF CENTRAL: News, notes, and highlights
Bruins of note
Any discussion of the Bruins has to begin with Marchand, who balances being one of the top-scoring players in the NHL with also being one of the feistiest and hardest to play against.
Marchand posted a 36-64-100 line to tie with Sidney Crosby for fifth place in the NHL in scoring, then added four goals and nine points in the series win over Toronto. He was particularly difficult to handle for the Blue Jackets, posting four goals and three assists for seven points in the three-game regular-season series. He's also perhaps the NHL's most well-known pests at this point, willing to do anything to get under the skin of an opponent.
He also has a great linemate in perhaps the best two-way player in the game in Patrice Bergeron. A noted defensive stalwart, Bergeron also is no slouch in the scoring department as he racked up a 32-47-79 line while racking up a plus-23 rating. The 15-year pro posted two goals and five points against Columbus.
The Blue Jackets didn't see much of David Pastrnak during the season as he was injured for the first two matchups between the teams, but "Pasta" is one of the top scorers in the NHL with 81 points (38 goals, 43 assists) in just 66 games. David Krejci added 73 points, including 53 helpers, and Torey Krug is one of the best power-play defensemen in the league with a 6-47-53 line in 64 games, including 30 points on the PP to place third among NHL defensemen. Oh, and don't forget the ageless wonder, 42-year-old defenseman Zdeno Chara, who is still one of the best shutdown blueliners in the league.
Columbus again turned its postseason fate over to Bobrovsky and he was brilliant in round one, allowing just eight goals in the four-game sweep, posting a .932 save percentage, and turning the series with his incredible Game 1 stop on Nikita Kucherov to keep the Jackets in it.
Boston, meanwhile, split the regular-season duties between veterans Rask and Jaroslav Halak but rode Rask to the opening series won over Toronto. The longtime Bruins netminder was solid, posting a 2.31 goals-against average and .928 save percentage against the Leafs, one of the NHL's most dangerous teams. Rask was 27-13-5 this year, posting a 2.48 GAA and .912 save percentage and a mark of 3.21 goals saved above average.
The series will give Dublin native Sean Kuraly the chance to play against his hometown team, as Kuraly is part of the first wave of Columbus-area natives to make it in the NHL after the creation of the Blue Jackets. Now in his third season with the Bruins, the speedy Miami University product posted a 8-13-21 line in 71 games this year with Boston and had a goal in the Game 7 win over Toronto.
Powerful power plays
Small sample sizes are fun, but this series will match up two teams that are red hot on the power play. Columbus scored on 5 of 10 chances vs. Tampa Bay to lead all NHL teams in the first round at 50 percent, while Boston checked in second in the first round at 43.2 percent (7 of 16).