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The Aftermath: A bolt from the Blue (Jackets)

by Brian McCormack / Columbus Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets may think the folks snow-birding in Florida this December have the right idea.

The Blue Jackets took down the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 in Tampa for their third straight victory and a sweep of their series in the Sunshine State. It’s the Blue Jackets’ longest winning streak of the season, and they're a perfect 3-0-0 in December.

After stealing two points from the Panthers on Thursday night on the shoulders of Sergei Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets got another solid goaltending performance to topple the top team in the Eastern Conference. But it wasn’t just Bobrovsky who came to play, as the Jackets came through with one of this season’s most complete efforts.

Blue Jackets Hockey
It’s a phrase that becomes a bit of a cliché if it’s thrown around too much during the kind of November the Jackets had. After all, every team wants to forecheck hard and every team wants to be responsible defensively. But on Saturday, we got a glimpse of Blue Jackets hockey when there are more healthy Blue Jackets playing hockey. If a few players can hit their stride like tonight, the Jackets can hope to get themselves back into the race.

Matt Calvert played one of his best games, making subtle plays and battling for pucks, demonstrated best when he muffed a puck off an offensive zone face-off but fought to win it back and find Boone Jenner, who put the Jackets ahead early. Jenner has goals in three straight games now, all simply because he gets the puck to the net and gets it off quickly. It’s even clearer just how much the Jackets missed him during the season’s first two months. Even Scott Hartnell is coming around again, with assists in two straight games after going without a point in 10 games before the Florida road trip. He showed terrific awareness to spring Jack Skille out of the penalty box through the neutral zone with Michael Chaput, leading to a dagger goal for Columbus.

Losing can often snowball and be hard to overcome, but winning works the same way. The Jackets performance tonight had the look of a team that finally remembered what they do well, and that they can be a hard team to play against.

Collapse to the House
The Blue Jackets were out-shot 34-20, but when you play the best offensive team in hockey you expect that you’ll spend some time defending. One key was another terrific outing from Bobrovsky, who made 33 saves and is another Jacket who seems to be finding his groove after an injury-plagued start. Additionally, the Jackets were terrific defensively for much of the night, collapsing on the low slot and eliminating second chances on the few rebounds Bobrovsky did allow. The Blue Jackets' neutral zone presence was much improved compared to Thursday’s contest, and they were winning the physical battles in their own end. Against the high-octane Bolts, you hope to contain more so than stop them, to bend and not break. The Blue Jackets did just that, losing the possession battle but winning the position battle in their own end.

Static Electricity
The Lightning never got going in this contest, partially because of the Jackets’ attention to detail defensively but also because they jumped on Tampa Bay goaltender Ben Bishop right away. Jenner’s goal came 2:37 into the first period and was a shot that Bishop didn’t seem ready for, waving his blocker at the high zone wrister that zipped past him. Ten minutes later it was another sharp-angled power play shot from David Savard that snuck through Bishop to make it a 2-0 game, another that Bishop would probably like to have back.

The Blue Jackets took advantage of that power play, and made sure not to see too much of the Lightning man-advantage, killing off the only two power plays they allowed the Bolts. And with that, the Blue Jackets had two goals on their first seven shots, Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson never generated consistent or threatening pressure, and the Blue Jackets were sure not to relent like they had in Sunrise.

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