Through three days of playoff hockey, there’s no storyline more surprising than the Columbus Blue Jackets leading the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 in this series. Columbus proved their late comeback wasn’t just an anomaly, beating Tampa Bay in every aspect of the game on April 12, picking up a 5-1 win.
Jackets break out
Much to the dismay of the Lightning crowd, the Blue Jackets picked up where they left off a couple nights prior. Just over five minutes in, Cam Atkinson found the net on a redirection after Matt Duchene put a shot on goal from along the boards.
Duchene wound up having a HUGE night for the Blue Jackets, playing a part in four of the five goals on the night. Following a hooking penalty by Ondrej Palat, Columbus needed only four seconds to tack on another score. Once again, it was Duchene who set up his teammate, this time being Zach Werenski.
Combo those two goals with a shutout performance by Sergei Bobrovsky (eight saves), it seemed like Tampa Bay was going to be in trouble. With 40 minutes of ice time left, there was still plenty of opportunity for the Lightning to strike back, but it would only get worse.
Alex Killorn was sent to the penalty box 30 seconds into period two for interference and Columbus would cash in. While Duchene proved he could set up his teammates, he finally got an opportunity himself to put the puck in the net. Werenski and Artemi Panarin were rewarded with assists while Duchene picked up rebound and slid it around Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Not only did Duchene dim the hopes of Lightning fans even more, he scored his first playoff goal in his career. After two playoff games with the Blue Jackets, Duchene has one goal and three assists, proving to be a valuable pick-up before the trade deadline. Prior to this series, Duchene had played in eight playoff games and only tallied six assists.
Brief power surge
It’s not like Tampa Bay didn’t have their chances in this game, the Blue Jackets just drew up a better defensive strategy. Several shots didn’t even make it to Bobrovsky, getting deflected by the Columbus defense, and if the puck did make it on goal, there was little chance at a rebound opportunity. Columbus packed in their defense to limit shot attempts getting through and to give extra assistance to their goalie.
A couple shots rang off the post and one finally made it’s way into the net, glancing off a defenseman’s skate.
Up to that point, home fans could be heard booing their team who was severely lacking their usual dominance. Jon Cooper remarked in his post-game comments “We haven’t faced adversity this season. This is a five-alarm fire for us and maybe it’s what we need. Sometimes you have to go through this.”
Columbus makes it a rout
With Tampa Bay getting on the board, the crowd noise began to become a factor once more, as the fans urged their skaters to continue their rally. That wouldn’t happen as Columbus got an unlikely shooter in the scorers column. Riley Nash slapped a shot past Vasilevskiy, pushing the lead back to three goals. In 78 regular season games, Nash only scored three times.
The “Bread Man” also got into the scoring column midway through the third period, with another assist from Duchene to boot. Precision passing across the ice found a waiting Panarin, pushing a quick shot by Vasilevskiy for the clincher.
Special Night for Werenski
While there were plenty of highlights for several Blue Jackets skaters, including a trio of guys scoring their first playoff goals, it was Werenski that had the most unique stat. He recorded what’s known as the Gordie Howe hat trick (goal, assist and fight), the first to do all three in Blue Jackets history.
While fighting and aggressive play were rewarded for one team, the other might suffer from a decision by one of their star players. Nikita Kucherov slammed into Markus Nutivaara after being called for a tripping penalty, which was followed by a Misconduct penalty and a major Boarding penalty. With just over four minutes remaining, he was ejected from the game having amassed 17 penalty minutes in a span of a few seconds.
Things are looking grim for the Lightning with a hearing set for Saturday morning to address his actions and what the consequences will be. Hockey analysts and fans who’ve weighed in on the hit came to the conclusion Kucherov will likely be suspended at least one game.
What lies ahead
Despite taking two major swipes at the Goliath of the NHL, there are still plenty of doubters the Blue Jackets can advance. Even though Columbus has scored nine of the last 10 goals in this series, there are still people who question if they will choke. It’s not that their haters, they’ve simply looked at the stats from the 2018 Playoffs.
It’s eerily similar, Columbus facing the top seed in the NHL two years in a row, then taking a 2-0 lead in the series to cast the league into a frenzy. Last season, it was the Washington Capitals who pulled off an incredible comeback, winning four straight to end the upset-minded Blue Jackets. Will the same happen this year, or will Columbus use that sting from their elimination a year prior making sure they don’t make the same mistakes back-to-back?
Apart from their collapse against the Caps, the Blue Jackets seem like they could sweep the high-powered Lightning. They’ve simply taken them out of their game, leading to Tampa Bay picking fights and playing physical instead of fast and in a rhythm. Columbus is feeling good regardless of their past, heading home with a 2-0 series lead after narrowly making the Playoffs at all. Meanwhile, the Lightning have a massive uphill battle remaining, and they won’t go quietly despite playing the next two on the road.
For now, the power has been shut down at the Amalie Arena, but if the Lightning plug back into how they played all season long, the electricity will be there if they can win one on the road.