First Round Home-Ice on the Line for Pens, Columbus

"These last four points are huge"

Josh Rowntree
April 04, 2018 - 2:24 pm
Penguins Vs Blue Jackets

© Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) - After 80 games apiece, the Penguins and Blue Jackets are at a stalemate, as both teams sit in second place in the Metropolitan with 96 points.

So, Thursday night’s game in Columbus becomes a battle for home-ice advantage. It will be the fourth and final head-to-head meeting for the teams in this regular season, with Pittsburgh owning the tiebreaker thanks to winning the three previous contests.

“Obviously, it’s going to be a really big game tomorrow night in a hostile environment, so we’ve got to be really good,” winger Jake Guentzel said. “These last four points are huge.”

If current standings hold, Pittsburgh and Columbus would again meet in the first round.  

“We’ve seen them a lot in the past couple of years,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “Playoffs, plenty of games in the regular season and it’s always a spirited battle against them no matter what time of the year it is.” 

While home-ice is significant, the Penguins have been able to win without it, including back-to-back series victories against Washington over the last two seasons. But six of Pittsburgh’s eight playoff series wins over the last two years have started on home ice.

“I think we benefitted from it last year,” winger Conor Sheary said. “We had a 2-0 lead going into Columbus and I thought that was really important to have those two wins going into an away rink. These points are definitely important and we just want to be as high as we can in the standings.”

The Blue Jackets managed to score only twice in the first two games of Pittsburgh’s 4-1 series win last Spring. But this year’s team has an offensive option it lacked a year ago as, after being traded for in June, third-year winger Artemi Panarin set the team’s single season points record in Tuesday’s comeback win over Detroit.  

“You look at Pittsburgh, they win games, they win a couple of Cups, they have people that can break a game open at key times,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “If we’re going to have to go through there, if we have the opportunity, we need someone like that and we do right now.”

While the Penguins have clinched a playoff spot, their positioning is far from secure, as New Jersey and Philadelphia, as well as Columbus, could bypass the Penguins in the standings.

The Blue Jackets will travel to Nashville after Tuesday’s game, while the Devils finish against Toronto and Washington. The Flyers play home contests against Carolina and the Rangers.