Are Blue Jackets, Devils ducking Penguins? Looks that way


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John Tortorella leaves the Blue Jackets bench. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

To quote Herm Edwards, "You play to win the game."

Or in the case of the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils, you play to ... not have to face the Penguins?

Apparently that is both the Devils and Blue Jackets' objective going into their respective regular-season finales tonight. Though each has 97 points and could improve their playoff position with a win, both the Blue Jackets and Devils are resting key starters in a fairly evident attempt to avoid having to face the two-time defending champion Penguins in the first round.

By both teams losing, that would set up the Flyers against the Penguins in the first round. With their 5-0 win today over the Rangers, Philadelphia (98 points) leapfrogged -- at least for now -- both the Blue Jackets and Devils into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

The "reward" for the Blue Jackets and Devils in losing and falling into a wildcard spot would be a first-round matchup against either the Lightning or Bruins.

In their finale against NHL-leading Nashville, the Blue Jackets are resting Artemi PanarinSeth Jones and Zach Werenski and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. The Penguins, who eliminated Columbus in the first round last year and in 2014, went 4-0 against the Blue Jackets this season.

Talking to reporters on Saturday, Columbus coach John Tortorella denied that his team was trying to avoid the Penguins.

“Oh, absolutely not," he said. "Absolutely not.”

In their finale against the Capitals in Washington, the Devils will rest Hart Trophy candidate Taylor Hall along with Travis ZajacKyle Palmieri and Sami Vatanen. In addition to that, Cory Schneider will start in goal in place of Keith Kinkaid. Schneider has lost his last 10 starts dating back to Dec. 30.

The Devils went 3-0-1 against the Penguins this season but are making their first playoff appearance since 2011-12.

The Flyers, who need only a point to clinch a playoff berth, went 0-2-2 against the Penguins this season while allowing five goals in each of their four games. In six previous playoff series against the Flyers, the Penguins are 2-4.

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