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Power play, penalty kill big part of Jackets' success

Special teams have tilted the ice for Columbus through three games

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

Entering this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs series against the Tampa Bay Lightning, if the Blue Jackets were to pull off the victory over the Presidents' Trophy winner, the Columbus special teams were going to have to pull their weight. 

The only problem was that's easier said than done.  

The Lightning team that tied the NHL's wins record entered the series with the best power play and best penalty kill in the league this season, so taking it to the Bolts' special teams was akin to beating Tampa Bay at its own game.

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But that's exactly what Columbus has done thus far. The Blue Jackets have scored on 4 of 8 power plays this far in the series while keeping the Lightning's vaunted man advantage attack off the scoreboard, one reason why the Union Blue has a 3-0 series lead. 

Perhaps most impressive has been a power play that has reached a new level after finishing the season at 15.4 percent this year. Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Matt Duchene and Oliver Bjorkstrand all have power-play goals in the series, and the game-winning goal in each contest has been a power-play tally. 

"You gotta have a good power play in the playoffs," Duchene said. "You have to. I don't think there's a team that's won a Cup that has had a poor power play or has had that as a part of their game that has struggled." 

There have been a couple of keys thus far, and it's not like the Blue Jackets have reinvented the wheel. First off, the Jackets have won a ton of offensive zone faceoffs, allowing the power-play units to get set up in the zone and not waste time going backwards to fish out pucks. For example, Werenski's goal came four seconds into a power play after Duchene won an offensive zone draw. 

The puck movement has also been superb, with the Jackets finding the right pass and putting it on the tape -- think of Artemi Panarin finding a wide-open Jones for his Game 1 winner or Jones faking a shot and teeing up Bjorkstrand for his Game 3 tally. 

Video: TBL@CBJ, Gm3: Bjorkstrand wires home power-play goal

Then there has been the last piece of the puzzle -- sizzling shots that have left Tampa netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy without a chance. Jones and Bjorkstrand each wired wristers home for their goals, while Werenski picked a spot and fired through a screen to beat Vasilevskiy in Game 2. 

"I think we've worked hard at it all year," Werenski said. "We have the right personnel out there to be successful. Right now it's just clicking for us. We're playing direct, we're playing simple, we're not trying to do too much." 

"Both groups have had good puck movement and we have had some people around the net," head coach John Tortorella said.  

The penalty kill has been a perfect 5-for-5 in the series, perhaps not a surprise since the Blue Jackets finished just behind the Lightning by killing 85.0 percent of opposing power plays this season. Columbus was particularly stingy from New Year's Eve on, killing 86 of 94 chances over the second half of the season. 

But the Lightning were supposed to be quite the test having entered the game with the NHL's best power play at 28.2 percent. Instead, the Bolts are minus-1 having allowed a shorthanded goal to tie the game in Game 1 by Josh Anderson after Columbus took a four-minute high-sticking penalty that could have allowed the Bolts to ice the game. 

In Sunday's Game 3, the Jackets didn't allow Tampa Bay to even have a power play. Afterward, captain Nick Foligno complimented the team for keeping its discipline during a feisty game. 

"Your emotions can come into it for good things, but they have to be taken out when something comes against you," Foligno said. "Guys took hits tonight, they blocked shots, they took slashes, and that's how you have to play. You have to grind through it. It's hard to do but it's necessary to win hockey games." 

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