Penguins begin title defense against untested Blue Jackets
PITTSBURGH — Forget about past history and playoff experience. The Pittsburgh Penguins insist those things won't matter when the puck drops on Wednesday night in Game 1 of their first-round series against Columbus Blue Jackets.
So what if the Penguins have twice as many Stanley Cups (four) as the Blue Jackets have postseason wins (two)? Sure, it looks nice in a trophy case, but those things are designed to celebrate the past. Pittsburgh believes it will also have zero impact on the present when the defending champions take on their upstart Metropolitan Division rivals in a showdown between the teams that finished the regular season with the second- and fourth-best records in the league.
"I think you start fresh," said Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who led the NHL with 44 goals. "The fact we have a lot of guys coming back, that helps as far as trust and belief but everybody starts from scratch here."
The Blue Jackets are plenty familiar with the concept, churning through nine coaches and just two playoff appearances since entering the league in 2000. They finally have something under John Tortorella that seemed nearly impossible at times earlier in their nondescript history: momentum and swagger.
"There's something building here," forward Scott Hartnell said. "The last couple years were tough, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. I believe in everyone here, and I think we have a fighting chance."
With the emphasis on fighting. Where the Penguins focus on speed to race by opponents, Columbus would just as soon mix it up, a study in contrast that could provide the most compelling series during the opening round of the playoffs.
"We've played teams like that in the past," Pittsburgh forward Matt Cullen said. "To me I think that brings out the best of us. Play with a little more physicality in our game, more snarl."
Some things to look for as the Penguins try to become the first team in 19 years to repeat as champions: