BLUE JACKETS at LIGHTNING
Wednesday, 7 p.m., Amalie Arena, (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, USA, SN360, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
It doesn't matter that it took 81 games to clinch. It doesn't matter that the Blue Jackets snuck in by two points and landed in the second wild card spot. It doesn't matter that the Jackets will face the NHL record-tying Tampa Bay Lightning.
As CBJ captain Nick Foligno put it walking off the ice in New York: "We're in the dance boys, now let's go win the damn thing."
The Blue Jackets will begin their third consecutive postseason run against the Lightning on Wednesday.
"This is a blast. You can see it, it's a loose locker room and we're having a good time. This is what we work all season for, this is why we go through Torts's hell camp with to prepare ourselves for this. We're excited to be here, but now it's about doing something while you're here." Captain Nick Foligno said.
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Know the Foe
There's no beating around the bush here - the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning are arguably the best NHL team to touch the ice. Not this season, not in recent memory, but in the Stanley Cup era.
With convincing wins over the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins to round out the regular season, Tampa tied the NHL record with 62 wins on the year.
The Lightning don't have a glaring weakness. They score in bunches with 325 goals on the season (36 more than second most - Calgary, 289), defend well with a 103 goal differential (41 more than second most - Calgary, 62) and are great in the clutch with a 13-3-1 record in overtime/shootout games.
In the three head-to-head matchups between Columbus and Tampa Bay this season, the Lightning outscored the Jackets 17-3 and were 54.5 percent on the power play, while holding the CBJ scoreless on 10 powerplay attempts.
Leading the way for Tampa Bay is the 2018-19 Art Ross Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov (41-87-128) and line mate Steven Stamkos (45-52-98). On the back end, Norris Trophy candidate Victor Hedman (12-42-54) locks down the blue line with skill and size, standing 6'6" 223 lbs.
In net, Andrei Vasilevskiy has had a stellar season. The Vezina Trophy hopeful went 39-10-4 with a .925 SV% and six shutouts on the season.
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Stay out of the box: The Lightning have the top power play in the league, converting on 28.2% of chances. Tampa's top power play unit is comprised of Kucherov, Stamkos and Brayden Point, who have 128, 98 and 92 points respectively. With Alexandre Texier likely to draw in for the Jackets, it is equally as likely top unit penalty killer Alexander Wennberg will be scratched making things even tougher for the CBJ penalty kill.
Play "CBJ Hockey": Since the acquisitions of Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel at the trade deadline, the Blue Jackets have had their fair share of struggles. Jackets head coach John Tortorella has said adding skill guys doesn't make the CBJ a skill team, rather they need to continue to play the style of hockey that got them here. The CBJ won't out skill the Lightning, so getting pucks deep and using the physical advantage will be key.
Bob: Star, circle and underline this one twice. CBJ goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has been criticized for his postseason performance in the past, but it's no question the team wouldn't be in the playoffs without their goaltender's recent hot streak. In March, Bobrovsky went 9-4-0 with a .940 SV% and four shutouts to drag the Jackets into the second wild card spot. Bobrovsky staying hot may be the Jackets only chance to stun the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.
Tortorella seems happy with how his lines looked to finish the last game and a half of the season. In practice Tuesday, Nick Foligno was centering the line with Oliver Bjorkstrand and rookie Alexander Texier.
Blue Jackets Projected Lineup
*Subject to change
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Ryan Dzingel - Matt Duchene - Josh Anderson
Alexandre Texier - Nick Foligno - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Riley Nash - Brandon Dubinsky - Boone Jenner
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Markus Nutivaara - David Savard
Dean Kukan - Scott Harrington
Scratched: Markus Hannikainen , Lukas Sedlak , Eric Robinson, Alexander Wennberg, Adam Clendening, Adam McQuaid, Andrew Peeke, Keith Kinkaid, Elvis Merzlikins