BLUE JACKETS (15-18-8) vs. LIGHTNING (26-11-2)
Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena
20th anniversary night featuring RJ Umberger
TV: Bally Sports Ohio, CBJ app, Bally Sports app
Radio: Eldorado Scioto Downs Blue Jackets radio network (97.1 The Fan flagship)
John Tortorella often speaks of how much players need to see results to really feel good about their games, and the head coach also speaks of how the mood of a team can improve drastically when it gets the reward of a victory.
So it stands to reason, then, that the Blue Jackets got a much-needed boost with Tuesday night's 4-2 win over Tampa Bay that broke a 1-6-1 streak for Columbus. The Blue Jackets had played some decent hockey in that stretch but didn't always get the reward, and it was fair to wonder if that was starting to grind the team down mentally.
But there was no such worry Tuesday, as the Blue Jackets received contributions from up and down the lineup and got to pump the winning music in the locker room after the victory. The hope is that breakthrough can help as the team continues on its stretch run, starting tonight with a rematch against the Lightning.
"Yeah, that's why players play," Tortorella said. "They want to win games. They want to enjoy themselves and feel good about themselves when they leave the building. It's been few and far between this year. We really haven't put a really good run together where you are looking at six or seven games that you can feel that way, so I'm sure it's been hard on them as far as the ups and downs of it, but that's where we lie and that's why we lie in the standings now where we're at."
And as Tortorella referenced with his answer, one win is nice, but the Blue Jackets -- who sit in seventh place in the Central Division, five points adrift from the last playoff spot in the standings -- need to string together wins to have any shot at a fifth consecutive playoff berth.
Consistency has been the hardest thing to find -- whether in the team's play or its results -- and that will be the goal as they try for the second time in a week to finish off a sweep of the Bolts.
"We just have to find that consistency now," captain Nick Foligno said. "That's the hard part for our team. We can't have those dips and lulls. A couple of games, we were playing well, we just didn't finish. Last night we were able to finish on plays and keep the puck out of our net … so it just makes a big difference where you have that mind-set to check and get your offense off of that.
"All of a sudden you don't feel like you have to play a perfect game. The game kind of comes to you a little bit, so hopefully the guys can see that, feel that and try to bring that into tomorrow's game."
Know the Foe
Tampa Bay remains undisputedly one of the best teams in the NHL, placing in the top 10 in the league in goals per game, goals allowed per game, power-play percentage and penalty kill.
But the defending Stanley Cup champions are in a bit of a dry spell at the moment, having lost two in a row and five of seven, but defenseman Luke Schenn said the team isn't panicking as it tries to chase down Florida (two points ahead) and Carolina (one point ahead) at the top of the Central Division.
"It just feels like no matter what we're doing, we're just not getting that reward or that bounce," Schenn said after the Lightning's loss Tuesday to Columbus. "It certainly happens throughout the course of a season. It's happened to us before. It's happened to us as individuals before. We'll get through it. It's just sticking with the process."
Injuries haven't helped of late, with forward Nikita Kucherov (hip) out along with defensemen Erik Cernak and Jan Rutta thanks to lower-body injuries.
There's still plenty of high-end talent on the squad in their absences, though. Perennial Norris Trophy candidate Victor Hedman leads the Bolts and is tied for first among NHL defensemen with 36 points (seven goals, 29 assists), while Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point pace the team in goals with 16-17-33 lines. Stamkos also has nine power-play goals to place tied for second in the NHL, while Point has 10 goals and 19 points in 14 career regular-season games vs. Columbus.
Ondrej Palat adds a 12-21-33 line and seven power-play goals, while Yanni Gourde (13 goals), Mathieu Joseph (10) and Alex Killorn (10) also are in double digits in goals. Meanwhile, rookie Ross Colton has scored in each of the last two games vs. Columbus.
In net, 2019 Vezina winner Andrei Vasilevskiy is turning in another impressive season, again showing he's one of the top goalies in the league with a 23-6-1 record, 2.00 GAA and .931 save percentage. Curtis McElhinney (3-4-1/3.03/.882) missed a game recently but was the backup Tuesday.
3 Keys to the Game
Keep it going: Columbus seems to play its best games against Tampa Bay, having dealt the Lightning three of its 11 regulation losses, and the effort will have to be there from the beginning against a Bolts team trying to get back on track.
Special teams: The Blue Jackets won this battle on Tuesday, with a power-play goal and four perfect penalty kills. Tampa Bay's special teams, in particular its power play, can take over games if you let them.
Confidence: Columbus was notably poised on the puck for the most part Tuesday, a key for when facing team that can come in waves.
Bjorkstrand leads the team with a 14-17-31 line this year and has 8-7-15 in the last 18 games. Two of his goals this year are against Tampa Bay. ... Zach Werenski has scored in two of the last four games and recorded 5-7-12 in the last 15 games. … David Savard is one of two players in the NHL along with Edmonton's Adam Larsson to record 80-plus blocked shots (89) and hits (95) this season. … Nick Foligno is two games from 600 in his NHL career. … Joonas Korpisalo has posted a .919 save percentage in his past 14 games, while Elvis Merzlikins has registered a mark of .924 in his last seven outings. … Jack Roslovic registered his sixth multi-point outing of the season with 1-1-2 on Tuesday. ... Tortorella has 670 career wins, two behind Mike Keenan for 12th place in NHL history. … Columbus has stopped 22 of 23 power-play chances in the last nine games. … The Blue Jackets have won three of four in the series over the Bolts to follow an eight-game losing streak (0-5-3) in the regular season series.
(Subject to change)
Patrik Laine - Alexandre Texier - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Eric Robinson - Max Domi - Nick Foligno
Mikhail Grigorenko - Jack Roslovic - Cam Atkinson
Stefan Matteau - Zac Dalpe - Liam Foudy
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - Dean Kukan
Mikko Lehtonen - Michael Del Zotto
Scratches: Kevin Stenlund, Gabriel Carlsson, David Savard (precautionary)
Taxi squad: Ryan MacInnis, Kole Sherwood, Scott Harrington, Cam Johnson
Injured reserve: Gus Nyquist (shoulder, out 5-6 months as of November), Emil Bemstrom (lower body, rehabbing with a timetable TBD), Riley Nash (sprained knee, out 4-6 weeks as of April 5), Boone Jenner (broken finger, out six weeks as of April 7), Brandon Dubinsky (wrist, LTIR)
Roster report: Matteau will enter the lineup in place of the injured Jenner, while everything else remains the same for Columbus, which will again start Korpisalo in net. Savard also will sit out ahead of the trade deadline with Kukan taking his place.