BLUE JACKETS vs. LIGHTNING - GAME 3
Blue Jackets lead series 2-0
Sunday, 7 p.m., Nationwide Arena, (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, NBCSN, TVAS, SN360, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
The Columbus Blue Jackets hold a 2-0 lead coming back to the capital city for Game 3 of their first-round series vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning, but there seems to be a strong sense among the Union Blue that their work is not done yet.
Columbus, of course, found out the hard way that a 2-0 lead with both wins on the road guarantees you diddly and squat a year ago when Washington roared back to win four straight to capture their first-round series with the Jackets on the way to the Stanley Cup.
Head coach John Tortorella said he's not sure last year's situation has any bearing on this year's, but he does know what Columbus has to do to keep it going against the Bolts.
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"This is a really good hockey club we're playing against, and they are not going away," Tortorella said after Friday night's 5-1 win in Game 2. "We just have to keep our wits about us and get ready to play our next game and understand we have to compete harder the next game and play better the next game. We have to keep on ramping it up."
That much is true considering just how quickly Tampa can get going. By now, the Lightning's regular-season accomplishments have been well recounted, including the 62 wins that tied for the most in NHL history. The Blue Jackets found out just how well the Bolts can play when they're jelling, as Columbus was outscored 17-3 by Tampa in the regular season and was overrun in the first period of Game 1 on the way to a 3-0 deficit.
So how has Columbus turned the tide? Simply put, by playing Blue Jackets hockey. It might sound like a cliché, but hockey is a sport dictated by which team is able to play its game and impose its will, and Columbus has done that over the last five periods.
That means a strong forecheck, as the Blue Jackets have not given the Lightning much free space in order to organize its attack all the way up the ice. That means playing in fives, so everyone is on the same page and moving the puck up the ice and away from danger is intuitive.
And it means, essentially, playing as a team.
"I think this is the Blue Jackets style that we have had as our identity for a while now where it's hard work, relentless on forechecking and winning battles," general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said Saturday. "Sunday is another opportunity to keep playing the same way. It's the Blue Jackets brand that we've been preaching as our identity for a long time, that we're a hard team to play against and nothing comes easy for the opponent."
Through that, you can see confidence building throughout the Blue Jackets lineup, especially as each player seems to be embraced their role. The last two wins were team efforts, featuring nine different goal scorers, but no one has tried to do too much while showing comfort in going 100 percent in what they've been asked to do.
"I think everyone is just trying hard in here, everyone wants to win," defenseman Zach Werenski said. "We have that belief in our locker room right now. It's a ton of fun going out there and playing that way. Everyone is pulling the rope."
That has to continue for the Blue Jackets to continue having success, and the team seems to know it. Despite the comeback win in Game 1 and the comprehensive victory in Game 2, the Jackets seem to be on an even keel and know they can't get too high or too low to finish the series out.
Instead, it's all about keeping their head down, playing the same way, and trusting the same success will come.
"The most important thing if we're going to successful as a team is we have to play as a team," Tortorella said. "We're just trying to play and then the result at the end of the 60-minute game, it is what it is and you get ready for the next one. That's how we're trying to go about it."
GAME 3 HUB: Highlights, tweets, and news
Know the Foe
Tampa Bay will go into this game with one notable absence and perhaps two.
Nikita Kucherov, the NHL's leading point scorer this year and the man with the most points in a season since 1996, was assessed a one-game suspension Saturday by the NHL Department of Player Safety after his late boarding hit on Markus Nutivaara in Game 2.
In addition, standout defenseman Victor Hedman, last year's Norris Trophy winner, did not practice Saturday because of injury. He was banged up late in the season as well and is questionable to go Sunday.
Of course, there's still plenty of firepower on the Bolts' bench, so Columbus certainly can't rest easy with those two players out of the lineup even if they are potential/former NHL awards winners. Tampa Bay still boasts two 40-goal scorers this season in Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point, though the two have been kept off the scoresheet thus far.
Tampa Bay also had the best power play in the NHL this year and tied for the best penalty kill, though the Blue Jackets have scored three power-play goals and a shorty this year while keeping the Lightning's lethal PP scoreless in five chances.
Another place where the Bolts have struggled in the first two games is in net. Andrei Vasilevskiy has just an .830 save percentage thus far (nine goals on 53 shots) and has not looked good. This after he led the NHL with 39 wins this season while posting a 2.40 goals-against average and .925 save percentage during the season.
3 Keys to the Game
Pedal to the metal: Forget the 2-0 series lead and the fact Tampa Bay will be without Kucherov. Columbus can't let up for even a second against the Lightning, who have shown quick strike capabilities all season.
Start strong: An early push from Tampa was expected in Game 2 but never came. The Jackets were a big reason why, though, and Columbus must again be ready to go from the drop of the puck and take away time and space.
Keep them frustrated: As Game 3 went on, Tampa Bay was the more physical team, but that's not really their game. The Blue Jackets clearly had the Lightning frustrated, and that's because the Jackets were playing in fives and not letting them breathe. That has to continue.
Sergei Bobrovsky has a .925 save percentage through two games of the series. … Tampa Bay appears set to insert 13-year veteran Ryan Callahan (7-10-17 in 52 games this year) in place of Kucherov, while fellow 33-year-old Braydon Coburn (4-19-23, +4 in 74 games) would be the likely replacement for Hedman … Dating back to the end of the regular season, Columbus has killed 91 of the last 99 penalties it has taken. … Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner each have six playoff goals in their Jackets careers, tied with Matt Calvert for the most in franchise history. … Riley Nash and Matt Duchene each scored the first playoff goals of their careers in Game 2.
Blue Jackets Projected Lineup*
*Subject to change
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Ryan Dzingel - Matt Duchene - Cam Atkinson
Alexandre Texier - Nick Foligno - Josh Anderson
Riley Nash - Boone Jenner - Brandon Dubinsky
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 (injured), Andrew Peeke, Vladislav Gavrikov; Keith Kinkaid, Elvis Merzlikins
Roster Report: Columbus signed Gavrikov on Saturday but he will not play as he must obtain a work visa before even arriving. General manager Jarmo Kekalainen also said no update was available Saturday in injured defensemen McQuaid and Ryan Murray.