PENGUINS (46-22-5, 97 pts) @ BLUE JACKETS (37-29-6, 80 pts)
— The Penguins will see some lineup changes tonight:
— Beau Bennett returns to the lineup after being sidelined due to wrist surgery since Nov 22. Bennett will skate on the second line with Jussi Jokinen and James Neal, head coach Dan Bylsma told reporters moments ago.
— Olli Maatta has looked like a young player who needs some nights off and that will be the case. Maatta will be a healthy scratch with Simon Despres drawing into the lineup.
— Forward Marcel Goc will be sidelined for 3 weeks due to a foot injury. The injury looked potentially worse than the diagnosis. A three week timetable should make Goc available to play right around the first round of the playoffs. Goc has not been a factor offensively for the Penguins but had been excellent in the faceoff circle of late.
— The Penguins will face a backup goaltender for the fifth straight game. With Sergei Bobrobsky ill, Curtis McElhinney will make his first start since Jan. 28. Marc Andre Fleury starts for the Penguins.
POTENTIAL FIRST ROUND MATCHUP
The Penguins and Blue Jackets meet for the fifth and final time tonight and Pittsburgh – Columbus is a potential first round matchup.
The Blue Jackets enter tonight’s game in a four-way tie with Detroit, Washington and Toronto for the final two wildcards spots as all four teams have 80 points.
With nine games left, the Penguins are pretty much locked in the No. 2 seed in the Conference (will face 1st wildcard team) as they trail the conference leading Bruins by nine points and have no games in hand. Boston has emerged as the clear favorites in the Eastern Conference.
This is a huge night for the Blue Jackets. They have games in hand on Detroit, Washington and Toronto, in addition to to an edge in ROW’s over all three teams. In a way they control their own destiny for the one of the final wildcard spots. The Blue Jackets also trail the Flyers by just three points for third place in the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers have emerged as a darkhorse in the Eastern Conference who can beat anyone in the league on a given night or lose to anybody because they rarely play a 60-minute game.
The Penguins are 4-0 against the Blue Jackets this season and tonight’s game is even bigger for the Blue Jackets when you look at these two games being a potential first round matchup.
If the Blue Jackets were to be competitive in round 1 vs Pittsburgh, they really need to win this game just from a mental standpoint.