Kovacevic: The Columbus Strait Jackets


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Garrett Wilson takes down the Blue Jackets' Nick Foligno in their fight Thursday night at PPG Paints Arena. - MATT SUNDAY / DKPS

It's not true that the Penguins occupy space in the Blue Jackets' collective consciousness.

They are that consciousness.

If there was any sorrier scene in recent hockey memory around here than how the Columbus franchise conducted itself on this particular Thursday at PPG Paints Arena, it's currently escaping me. And no, believe it or not, I'm barely referencing the Penguins' 3-0 victory by nightfall, even though that was their eighth in a row over the Jackets.

I'm talking about a head coach telling his Vezina Trophy goaltender, who'd made eight starts in a row and 14 among the previous 15 games, not only that he suddenly wasn't needed to start in a critical game but also that he wouldn't even be on the bench with his teammates!

That really happened. John Tortorella scratched Sergei Bobrovsky entirely. Joonas Korpisalo started for the first time since Feb. 18, and Keith Kinkaid, transparently acquired from the Devils at the trade deadline solely because he's shown he can handle the Penguins, suited up as backup.

I know, I know, it couldn't be more obvious. Bobrovsky's been an abject, career-long disaster when facing Pittsburgh, flying hard in the face of his success against most everyone else. He was abysmal in first-round playoff flops against the Penguins in 2014 and 2017, the first of those with the Flyers. He's got a 3.14 goals-against average against the Penguins, 2.48 overall. He's got an .898 save percentage against the Penguins, .918 overall. And he's lost his past six meetings, scorched for 24 goals in those.

But when pressed at the morning skate on whether Pittsburgh influenced his call, Tortorella coolly replied, "No, no," before adding, "We feel he's played a lot of hockey. This was a game we wanted to give to Korpi and try to get Bob a little bit of rest and kind of work on his game. Bob is a guy that needs some days sometimes to work on certain parts of his game that you can't do when you're playing as much as he has. This a good day for it."

Oh, I'll bet it was.

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