The Blue Jackets didn't have a "target opponent" in mind as they closed out the regular season schedule - they knew that wherever they slotted in, a stern test would await them. But they did know prior to Saturday's game in Florida what a win meant - and they're embracing it.
After a 3-2 victory over the Florida Panthers on Saturday night in Sunrise, Fla., the Eastern Conference playoff picture was cemented: the Blue Jackets, who locked up the No. 1 wild card spot with the win, are set to take on the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening round of Lord Stanley's tournament. Game 1 of the quarterfinal series will be Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Pittsburgh.
FOX Sports Ohio will broadcast at least Games 1-4 of the Blue Jackets' opening round series. Full details and telecast information can be found here.
Full series schedule:
Game 1WednesdayApril 16at Pittsburgh7:30 p.m.
Game 2SaturdayApril 19 at Pittsburgh7 p.m.
Game 3MondayApril 21at Columbus7 p.m.
Game 4WednesdayApril 23at Columbus7 p.m.
*Game 5SaturdayApril 26at PittsburghTBD
*Game 6Monday April 28at ColumbusTBD
*Game 7WednesdayApril 30at PittsburghTBD
Bold – home games * – if necessary
FOR THE FULL PLAYOFF SERIES SCHEDULE ANNOUNCEMENT CLICK HERE
The other Metropolitan Division series features the New York Rangers (No. 2 in the division) against the Philadelphia Flyers (No. 3 in the Metro), so both wild card spots remained within their respective divisions and did not "cross over" as is permitted under the NHL's new playoff structure. The winner of the Rangers-Flyers series will face the winner of the Blue Jackets-Penguins series in the second round, and so on.
You want to build a rivalry? This is a great start. The regular season is one thing - and truth be told, it wasn't too kind to Columbus in the season series against Pittsburgh (0-5) - but taking the battle to the Stanley Cup playoffs figures to have a different effect on things.
"We're just excited...excited for the opportunity to compete in the playoffs and it's something you have to earn," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "And I thought our guys went out and earned it this year. Now we have an opportunity to play one of the premier teams in the league, a team that has talented players and they know how to win.
"We're 0-5 against them and I know that's going to be discussed. But I thought four out of those five games were very good hockey games."
The official schedule for the Stanley Cup playoffs has yet to be released, but the Blue Jackets and Penguins are likely to get underway mid-week at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. After two games in Pittsburgh, the series will then shift back to Columbus for Games 3 and 4 at Nationwide Arena.