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Game 1 preview: Enough waiting, it's time for playoff hockey

Blue Jackets and Capitals ready to get the postseason started with series-opener.

by Brian Hedger @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

EASTERN CONFERENCE FIRST ROUND, GAME 1: 

BLUE JACKETS (0-0-0) AT CAPITALS (0-0-0)

Location: Capital One Arena, 7:30 p.m., Thursday

TV: Fox Sports Ohio/Fox Sports Go (Jeff Rimer, Jody Shelley) - FOX Sports Ohio channel finder
- Columbus/Lima and Cleveland areas can find the game on the main FOX Sports Ohio cable channel
- Cincinnati, Dayton, Louisville/Lexington, Charleston/Huntington, Toledo areas can find the game on the alternate FOX Sports Ohio cable channels

Radio: 97.1 FM & BlueJackets.com (Bob McElligott)

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The wait is nearly over.

After three days of practice, the Blue Jackets and Capitals each just want to get their first-round series started, which they'll do Thursday night.

"It is exciting," Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky said. "You kind of feel the new season's coming up and all the guys are excited, so it's going to be fun."

It should be great theater, too.

There is star power on both sides, led by the Capitals' Alex Ovechkin, who can be as dangerous without the puck as he can with it. The Blue Jackets will need to track him closely in every game, making sure not to let him have anything easy, but they also can't oversell on defending "Ovi."

VISIT THE BLUE JACKETS STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB

Washington has other players to worry about, as well, up front and along the blue line. That includes centers Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom, plus defenseman John Carlson - who can also put the puck in the net.

The Blue Jackets will counter with their own stars - some young, some not as young and some older.

Rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois will center the top line, which has a lot of firepower with Artemi Panarin and Cam Atkinson on the wings, while the second line features a nice mixture of talent in Boone Jenner, center Alexander Wennberg and veteran Thomas Vanek.

That's not to mention the top defense duo of Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, who each had 16 goals this season to set the single-season franchise record for goals by a defenseman.

Behind them all will be Sergei Bobrovsky, who's had his struggles in the postseason but also has two Vezina Trophies to his credit. It's another big challenge for the Blue Jackets, but they've got a lot more playoff experience in their locker room than they did in 2014, when they'd qualified for the postseason for just the second time ever.

This time, they're back in the playoffs for the first time in consecutive seasons, looking to advance past the first round for the time.

"I think the pressure is just in our room to make sure we play the right way, captain Nick Foligno said. "The pressure for us is to continue trying to be the team we envisioned, and that's a team that does get past the first round, does get past the second round and so on. That's the pressure within us, not from external people talking about our team. We've gone through that emotional roller-coaster before and no good comes of it. So, it's just going to be staying tight in here and understanding we have a great opportunity in front of us."

Let the fun begin.

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS FOUNDATION TO HOST FUNDRAISERS FOR HUMBOLDT BRONCOS

SEASON SERIES

The Capitals took the series by winning the first three games, going 3-1-0 and winning both games held in the nation's capital. The Blue Jackets played well in all four games, dominating shots and puck-possession, but Washington capitalized on key mistakes and scored enough timely goals to win three times. Columbus prevented a series sweep in the finale, winning 5-1 on Feb. 26 at Nationwide Arena.

All-time (W-L-T-O): 12-17-1-6 overall; 4-9-1-3 in Washington, D.C.

Playoffs: This is the first time the Blue Jackets and Capitals have met in the postseason.

WHO'S HOT

Blue Jackets: Atkinson ended the season with a nine-game point streak, which tied his career-high. He had eight goals, five assists and 13 points during the streak and had 18 goals in the Blue Jackets' final 33 games.

Capitals: Ovechkin ended the regular season on a three-game goal streak, with two goals in the Capitals' 5-3 victory Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. Ovechkin had four goals in the streak and had 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in Washington's final 14 games.

 

ENTER TO WIN GAME 3 TICKETS

 

ANALYTICS

Columbus

  • Corsi (5v5 shot-attempts percentage) - 51.5% (4,049 for, 3,814 against), 9th
  • 5v5 scoring chance percentage (SC%) - 51.3% (1,985 for, 1,886 against), 12th
  • 5v5 high-danger scoring chance percentage (HD%) - 50.3% (772 for, 762 against), 13th
  • PDO (SH%+SV%) - 1.003 (7.44 SH% + 92.83 SV%), 13th

Washington

  • Corsi (5v5 shot-attempts percentage) - 48% (3,608 for, 3,915 against), 24th
  • 5v5 scoring chance percentage (SC%) - 48.2% (1,864 for, 2,005 against), 25th
  • 5v5 high-danger scoring chance percentage (HD%) - 45.1% (679 for, 826 against), 31st
  • PDO (SH%+SV%) - 1.017 (9.19 SH% + 92.48 SV%), 4th

SPECIAL TEAMS

POWER PLAY

Columbus

  • 17.2% overall (39-for-227), 25th
  • 28.6% last 10 games (8-for-28), 8th

Washington

  • 22.5% overall (55-for-244), 7th
  • 22.6% last 10 games (7-for-31), 14th

PENALTY KILL

Columbus

  • 76.2% overall (163-for-214), 26th
  • 67.7% last 10 games (21-for-31), 30th

Washington

  • 80.3% overall (216-for-269), 15th
  • 85.7% last 10 games (28-for-33), 10th

SCOUTING REPORT

EYES ON: THE BLUE JACKETS

  • Columbus welcomes Foligno and defenseman Markus Nutivaara back to the lineup following injuries that kept them out for the final stretch of the regular season. Foligno, who missed six games with a lower-body injury, will stay at center and play with two interesting wingers. He'll be flanked by Oliver Bjorkstrand on the left and Josh Anderson on the right. Anderson is more of a power forward than Bjorkstrand, but all three on the line can win puck battles cause havoc around the net. Nutivaara missed the final three games after being injured Mar. 31 in Vancouver, and he'll go back go to skating with Ryan Murray, a fellow puck-mover.
  • The Blue Jackets typically don't do a lot of on-ice prep for their next opponent during the regular season, focusing their attention inward, but the playoffs are a different story. Since it's the same opponent in each round, more time can be spent prepping for tendencies in situational play, such as penalty killing and power plays. Columbus worked on its struggling penalty-kill Tuesday in practice, specifically trying to mimic the Capitals' strategies. The Jackets worked on power plays Wednesday at Capital One Arena.
  • Bobrovsky met with reporters following practice Wednesday and said he's looking forward to the start of the playoffs. Bobrovsky is trying to embrace the pressure and of the postseason and just enjoy the ride. Thus far, the playoffs have bitten Bobrovsky in his NHL career. He's 3-10 with a 3.63 goals-against average and .887 save percentage, which are well below his career regular-season marks of 2.44 and .920. He'll get the start in Game 1 and have a chance to better those marks.

EYES ON: THE CAPITALS

  • Washington's "advanced metrics" numbers aren't great on the whole. The Capitals are less than 50 percent in shot-attempts percentage (Corsi), scoring chance percentage and high-danger scoring chance percentage. However, according to a report in the Washington Post on Wednesday, the Capitals are fine with low possession numbers, as long as they continue creating quality scoring chances and converting on those. Rather than peppering the net with shots of all kinds, the Capitals have worked on creating quality over quantity. They took the fewest shots in the league, for instance, but scored 256 goals, which was ninth overall in scoring.
  • Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Jay Beagle, who centers the fourth line, is "doubtful" because of an upper-body injury that kept him out the final week of the regular season. Beagle is skating on his own, outside of full team practices, and Trotz said that he would slot right back I to the lineup whenever he's deemed healthy enough to return. Center Travis Boyd is also doubtful because of an illness.
  • Philipp Grubauer will get the start in net for Washington, which Trotz announced Tuesday. Grubauer won seven of his last nine starts in the regular season (7-2-0), posting a .925 save percentage. Still, it was a surprising decision considering the resume of the Capitals' usual No.1 goalie, Braden Holtby, who went 6-2-0 with a .904 save percentage to close out the regular season. Holtby started all four games against the Blue Jackets this season, winning the first three. He was pulled in favor of Grubauer in the fourth game, after allowing four goals in the first period. Grubauer went 18-for-18 in saves that night.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

Forwards

Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson

Boone Jenner - Alexander Wennberg - Thomas Vanek

Oliver Bjorkstrand - Nick Foligno - Josh Anderson

Brandon Dubinsky - Mark Letestu - Matt Calvert

Defensemen

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones

Ian Cole - David Savard

Ryan Murray - Markus Nutivaara

Goaltenders

Sergei Bobrovsky

Joonas Korpisalo

 

Others: Markus Hannikainen, Sonny Milano, Alex Broadhurst, Taylor Chorney, Jack Johnson, Scott Harrington, Dean Kukan, Lukas Sedlak (upper body)

CAPITALS

Forwards

Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov- Tom Wilson

Andre Burakovsky - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie

Chandler Stephenson - Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly

Brett Connolly- Chandler Stephenson - Alex Chiasson

Defensemen 

Dmitri Orlov - Matt Niskanen

Michal Kempny - John Carlson

Brooks Orpik - Jakub Jerabek

Goaltenders

Philipp Grubauer

Braden Holtby

Scratched: Madison Bowey, Jakub Vrana, Christian Djoos, Jay Beagle

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