In a dizzying 48-hour span, the Blue Jackets have transformed themselves from feisty underdogs to confident favorites. That's what happens when you follow a Game 1 comeback victory with a dominating 5-1 playoff triumph against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who ruled the NHL with 128 points during the regular season.
Game 3 is slated for Sunday night in Columbus, where the Blue Jackets will be determined to avoid a repeat of last year's opening playoff round. Columbus beat the favored Capitals twice on the road before Washington rallied for four consecutive wins to begin its march toward the Stanley Cup.
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Matt Duchene led the way Friday night with a goal and three assists and the Blue Jackets suffocated the league's No. 1 offense before a shocked, sellout crowd at Amalie Arena.
Cam Atkinson and Zach Werenski staked Columbus to a 2-0 advantage within the opening 12 minutes before Duchene scored a power-play goal early in the second period.
"We did a good job to start the game,'' said Duchene. "We know they will be very hungry coming into Columbus.''
Mikhail Sergachev gave Tampa Bay some life five minutes into the final period with a goal that trickled off Columbus defenseman Markus Nutivaara in the crease.
When captain Nick Foligno went off for tripping less than a minute later, the crowd braced for a potential Lightning comeback, but the Blue Jackets frustrated the Lightning's power play and ended any suspense with goals by Riley Nash and Artemi Panarin.
"That's a huge kill for us," said Columbus coach John Tortorella. "They were pushing. Let's say they score a goal there, but we found away to get it done."
Columbus put a wall up in front of Sergei Bobrovsky and when Tampa Bay shots managed to trickle through, a poised defense safely cleared the rebounds. David Savard, who logged a game-high 24:33 of ice time, was credited with six blocked shots.
The Lightning's league-leading power play went 0-for-2 as Blue Jacket penalty killers extended their streak to 10 consecutive games without allowing a goal.
The game turned chippy in the final moments with Columbus well in front. The NHL's top scorer, Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov, received a 10-minute misconduct penalty for unleashing a vicious elbow and his status for Game 3 is in doubt.
"Give them credit,'' said Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi. "It seems like when we make a mistake they're making us pay for it. We had some stretches that were good, but in the end, not good enough.''
Nine different Blue Jackets have goals through two games while Tampa Bay's top three scorers -- Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point -- have been kept off the score sheet.
"We had a wonderful regular season, but the regular season is different than the playoffs,'' said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "Things happen so fast. Have we faced a ton of adversity this year? We haven't. This is a 5-alarm fire. We'll see how we respond. The one thing I know about this group is they find a way.''
The Blue Jackets took control from the start and never wavered, prompting more than a few Lightning fans to boo the home team. Given last year's first-round playoff disappointment, Tortorella is looking
for even more.
"We were ready to play and I thought we played better than in Game 1," Tortorella said. "We're going to have to play even better in Game 3. I don't think our team is nervous about the situation. Am I surprised we're up 2-0? I'm not surprised. I think we're a good team. But that's a really good team over there -- and they're not going away.''