The Blue Jackets dropped a 2-1 overtime decision to Tampa Bay on Monday night in Nationwide Arena.
Game in a Paragraph
In a matchup of the two hottest teams in the NHL over the past two months, the game lived up to the billing as a fast, physical, back-and-forth game transpired. Tampa Bay scored in the first before a shorthanded Columbus team without Seth Jones and Cam Atkinson answered in the second. After no one scored in the third period, Tampa Bay needed 31 seconds of OT to net the winner off the stick of Nikita Kucherov, who scored twice.
Video: CBJ Recap: Bjorkstrand scores in OT loss to Lightning
Quote of the Game
Head coach John Tortorella: "I thought we were the better team. We held them to 12 scoring chances. We were good positionally. The thing that frustrates me, I want us to have a chance to win the overtime and if they are going to beat us, I want them to beat us, not beat ourselves. That's what's frustrating to me. I want to see it play out."
- Oliver Bjorkstrand notched his team-best 18th goal of the year, giving him 11 goals in the last 12 games.
- Elvis Merzlikins played another solid game with 28 saves, including a number of excellent denials of Kucherov. He has allowed just 12 goals in his last 10 starts with a .959 save percentage.
Quick Recap (PHOTO GALLERY)
Tampa Bay moved into the ascendency just 2:29 into the game as the teams skated 4-on-4. It was a quick passing play, with Brayden Point finding Mikhail Sergachev at the top of the zone, and he fired to the left post where Kucherov was cutting out from behind the net to deflect the puck perfectly past Merzlikins.
There was plenty of action the rest of the period, but it was a 1-0 game after 20 minutes. That action included some occasional scrums, bringing to mind the heated playoff series from the year prior, as well as some strong Tampa Bay shifts in the offensive zone as well as some good Blue Jackets counterattacks.
While Tampa Bay had a 12-8 edge in shots on goal in the first period, it was Columbus who controlled the pace of the second with a 16-6 advantage. And the Blue Jackets also got on the board, tying the game at 1 just 3:44 into the period. Pierre-Luc Dubois fed in Oliver Bjorkstrand on a breakaway after Erik Cernak's stick broke, and The Maestro made a sliky forehand-backhand move over goalie Curtis McElhinney to knot the score.
Video: TBL@CBJ: Buster Douglas drops ceremonial puck
Columbus pushed from there at times for another, as did the Lightning, but it remained a 1-1 game going to the third period. Kucherov made a bid early in the period as a loose puck fell onto his stick, but Merzlikins made a nice stop on his quick release to keep it tied.
The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, had some good looks as the third stretched on, including a Bjorkstrand and Zach Werenski getting two looks on McElhinney from the slot on the same shift, but the Bolts' goalie was equal to the tasks. In addition, with 5:30 to go, Boone Jenner got onto a long rebound and had room the shoot, but his attempt hit the crossbar.
Kucherov also had another great look with a one-timer from the top of the right circle inside the final two minutes, but Merzlikins went to full extension and snagged the shot with his glove, much to the delight of Nationwide Arena.
That meant overtime was in the cards, and it lasted just 31 seconds. After Brayden Point was able to dispossess Werenski behind the net, Victor Hedman fed Kucherov at the right post for an easy finish past Merzlikins, who was left little help.
1. The Blue Jackets and Lightning picked right up where they left off in last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, as this one had all the intensity of a game that would be played in April, May or June in the first meeting between the teams since last year's CBJ sweep. "It felt like a playoff game a little bit, and it was fun," David Savard acknowledged. "Those kinds of games are fun to be a part of." Columbus finished with a 32-30 edge i shots on goal, and the team had better shot quality, as well -- an advantage of 7-2 high-danger chances at 5-on-5 plus an edge in expected goals, per Natural Stat Trick. The frustration, of course, will be scoring just one goal again, as Columbus has played excellent hockey in the last four games but has just five goals in that span. "Obviously, I think we need to be able to put the puck in the net a little bit more," Bjorkstrand said. "It's been the theme the last few games. I thought we played a good game, we just have to score a little bit more."
2. With Jones and Atkinson out, a number of players stepped into new roles, and all appeared to do well. Rookie Liam Foudy made his NHL debut and slotted into Atkinson's spot, finishing with 10:23 of ice time and two shots on goal. The Blue Jackets called him up to be an offensive player, and he passed his first test by being a part of a number of scoring chances. "He showed really good poise," Tortorella said. "I liked a lot of things about his game." The 20-year-old rookie, called up from the OHL's London Knights out of Canadian junior hockey, said he felt comfortable as the game went on. "I think after a couple of shifts, I realized it's a hockey game still," he said. "I feel like I settled in pretty well." Meanwhile, Markus Nutivaara took Jones' spot next to Werenski and on the power play and skated 19:56. When he was on the ice, the CBJ had a 9-3 edge in scoring chances at 5-on-5 per Natural Stat Trick, and that was while matching up mostly against the Lightning's top two lines. "I thought we played well for three periods," Werenski said of the combo. "It didn't take us too long to get used to each other." Kevin Stenlund, who has taken over a center spot, also was excellent in 11:45 of action.
3. To many, the Blue Jackets last two games -- this one as well as Saturday night's game vs. Colorado -- served as a test for a team that was riding a 19-2-5 run. Colorado and Tampa Bay are two of the best teams in the league, with deep, talented offenses that can bludgeon teams into submission. Columbus came away with a pair of strong performances in the two games, outshooting and outchancing both the Avs and Lightning. The trademark of the team -- airtight defending -- shone through in both contests as neither opponent truly got going for long stretches. "I thought we showed them way too much respect in the first period -- way too much," Tortorella said. "We caught a hold of ourselves and then I thought we played a really good hockey game." The defense certainly passed the test, but the million dollar question might be what to make of an offense that had chances but didn't bury pucks.
Columbus is 9-1-2 in its last 12. ... Bjorkstrand snapped a four-game streak without a goal and has 11-3-14 in his last 12 games. … Dubois has a 7-18-25 line in his last 26 games. … Kucherov also has been on fire with 10 goals and 20 points in his last 11 games. … Columbus has a point in 16 of 17 games when tied after two periods (11-1-5). ... Columbus played its 17th overtime game of the year and is now 7-10 in such situations (7-8 in 3-on-3). … The Blue Jackets' penalty kill went 3-for-3 and improved to 23-for-24 over the last 12 games. ... The CBJ power play also went 0-for-3. … Columbus has a 19-game point streak against Eastern Conference foes (14-0-5). The streak is tied for the fifth longest intra-conference point streak in a single season in the NHL since 1974-75s. ... The Blue Jackets played their league-high 35th one-goal game and fifth in six games since the All-Star break. ... Tampa Bay played without second-leading scorer Steven Stamkos (lower body).
Columbus made two changes to the lineup because of injury. 2018 first-round pick Liam Foudy made his NHL debut in place of Atkinson (lower body), while Scott Harrington drew in for Jones (ankle). Scratches were Atkinson, defenseman Gabriel Carlsson and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (injury).
The Blue Jackets return to action Thursday with a second trip to Buffalo in 12 days to take on the Sabres.