Interstate 70 is about to get a little busier.
For the first time, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Columbus Blue Jackets will square off in the Stanley Cup playoffs, as Saturday’s NHL results solidified the final Eastern Conference standings and set the first-round matchups.
Pittsburgh’s 4-3 overtime loss to Philadelphia guaranteed that the Flyers would face the Rangers, while the Blue Jackets’ 3-2 victory in Florida locked them into the East’s top wild card spot. Since the Penguins (51-24-6, 108 points) won the Metropolitan Division, they will have home ice against Columbus (43-32-7, 93 points).
The two franchises are close geographically, but until this season they were in opposite conferences. Since the Blue Jackets have yet to win a playoff game in their 14-year history, they haven’t come close to facing the Penguins in a best-of-seven.
That will change sometime this week, with first-round schedules expected to be finalized Sunday night. The Pens won all five meetings between the two this season, as both were placed in the new Metro Division last summer.
Under the new playoff format, the winner of Pittsburgh-Columbus is guaranteed to face either New York or Philadelphia in the second round. In past years, the teams would be reseeded after one round, but the brackets are rigid now.
In the Atlantic Division bracket, the conference champion Bruins will take on the wild card Red Wings, while Montreal is set to battle Tampa Bay.
Out West, the matchups are yet to be determined.