Artemi Panarin

Sweeney: Bruins 'going to need to be at our best' to defeat Columbus

Sweeney: Bruins 'going to need to be at our best' to defeat Columbus

BRIGHTON, Mass. – The Bruins will undoubtedly be wary of the wild card Columbus Blue Jackets when their playoff series gets underway on Thursday night at TD Garden.

The Blue Jackets gave the Bruins all they could handle during the season and dropped seven goals on them during an embarrassing mid-March loss in Columbus before dropping the final two meetings of the regular season between the two teams. Now they are vastly improved due to confidence, greater focus and finished chemistry between some of the new parts brought in at the trade deadline, and the Blue Jackets are getting the proper respect from the Bruins headed in.

During the regular season the Blue Jackets were just outside the top-10 in both offense and defense, but they improved markedly once Matt Duchene (three goals, seven points in four games) arrived, as evidenced by his scoring binge in the first round against the Lightning.

The Columbus power play was dreadful during the regular season, so it will be interesting to see if their hot PP stays hot in the second round. But their PK was the second-best in the NHL during the regular season, and it will be a prime-time matchup butting heads against a Boston PP that was red-hot (7-for-17) against the Leafs in the first round.

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney was paying his respect to Columbus ahead of the series while addressing the media on Wednesday, and it sure sounds like Boston won’t underestimate the eighth-seeded Blue Jackets this round.

“They’re tough. They’re well-rested. They won by our count 7-of-8 and 11-of-12 down the stretch and four in a row against arguably a favorite [in Tampa Bay] going into the Stanley Cup playoffs. They made a lot of changes and have come together,” Sweeney said, addressing the media on Wednesday in between playoff game days. “They present a lot of challenges and we’re going to have to be at our best to beat them. It’s two teams that certainly have good goaltending, good depth and balance in their scoring. After a four-game series I think they’re first in PP and fifth in penalty kill, and we’re second and seventh. Special teams were a factor in the last series. It’s definitely a tough opponent and we’re going to need to be at our best.

“They’re a talented group. They’ll score off the rush. They’ll fore-check in an aggressive manner. They were in the top-10 anyway, but their blocked shots have dramatically increased. So they’re invested and they present challenges. They have good goaltending and they have three defensemen that generally play in the 26-28 minute range [of ice time]. So they’re on the ice an awful lot of the game. They have a power play that was running hot during the [Tampa] series and was pretty good during the year as well.

"They present challenges. They’re a good team and they deserve to be here.”

Certainly Duchene and Artemi Panarin will get plenty of attention up front, but this is also a big, physical group that doesn’t mind matching brawn with skill, and could pose problems on multiple fronts. Sergei Bobrovsky is every bit as good as Tuukka Rask, if not better between the pipes. And the Blue Jackets' defense features young stud D-men in Zach Werenski and Seth Jones who will play close to half of each and every one of the playoff games.

That’s a much different wrinkle than the self-destructing Maple Leafs, who eventually reverted to form in Game 7 after playing some good defense through most of the first-round series. That won’t be the case for the B’s against the Blue Jackets, and instead they’ll have to earn it just as fervently as they did in the seven-game series vs. Toronto in the first round.

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Watch Charlie McAvoy drop the gloves with Artemi Panarin for second fight of his NHL career

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File photo

Watch Charlie McAvoy drop the gloves with Artemi Panarin for second fight of his NHL career

The Bruins needed a spark during Tuesday night's game against the Blue Jackets, and Charlie McAvoy provided one in the second period.

McAvoy dropped the gloves with Artemi Panarin for his first fighting major of the season and second of his young NHL career. Watch below:

The B's were down 5-2, but went on to score two second-period goals after McAvoy's bout to narrow the deficit to one. However, they couldn't complete the comeback and dropped their second straight game, 7-4.

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NHL trade rumors: Bruins hovering as Artemi Panarin rental option

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USA TODAY Sports Images

NHL trade rumors: Bruins hovering as Artemi Panarin rental option

The Boston Bruins have won six games in a row and are playing like legitimate Stanley Cup contenders, so it wouldn't be surprising if they made a move to upgrade their roster before the Feb. 25 NHL trade deadline.

One of the most talked about trade candidates is Columbus Blue Jackets left winger Artemi Panarin. In Sportsnet reporter Elliotte Friedman's latest "31 Thoughts" column on Tuesday, he wrote about how the Bruins fit into the Panarin sweepstakes at the moment.

8. I think the teams with the best chances at signing Panarin long-term are Florida, Los Angeles, the Islanders and the Rangers. The only one that makes sense to take a shot at him for rental purposes is the Islanders. Boston hovers as a rental option, too. If the Islanders don’t get their top choices, GM Lou Lamoriello could consider old acquaintance Ilya Kovalchuk. Remember, the winger has control over his destination.

Panarin is without question one of the best players rumored to be available at the deadline. He has tallied 67 points (24 goals, 43 assists) in 56 games for the Blue Jackets this season. He's on pace to hit the 70-point mark for the fourth straight season. Panarin will be an unrestricted free agent July 1 if not signed before that date.

The 27-year-old is a legitimate top-six forward and could significantly bolster any contending team's hopes of winning the Stanley Cup. If the Bruins are going to give up prime assets for a rental, Panarin should be among their top targets. He's a much better player than Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, a player in whom the B's reportedly are interested.

The Bruins also are rumored to be interested in Senators right winger Mark Stone, who -- like Panarin -- is in the prime of his career and eligible to be a UFA this summer.

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