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playoffs

Blue Jackets motivated, confident heading into playoffs against Lightning

Out to prove 'we belong here,' forward Atkinson says

by Craig Merz / NHL.com Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- The Columbus Jackets won seven of their final eight regular-season games and are confident heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

That upbeat attitude was on display Monday as the Blue Jackets prepared for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; SN360, TVAS, SUN, FS-O).

"We're happy we're here," forward Cam Atkinson said. "We're going to prove all our hard work pays off and play hard and that we belong here."

 

[RELATED: Complete Lightning vs. Blue Jackets series coverage]

 

The Lightning (62-16-4) tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most wins in NHL history and their goal differential of plus-103 was the highest since the 2005-06 Ottawa Senators (plus-107). With 128 points, Tampa Bay finished 21 points ahead of the Calgary Flames and Boston Bruins, who each had 107, for the most in the League.

Columbus (47-31-4), which was 13th overall and 30 points behind the Lightning to earn the second wild card from the Eastern Conference, is viewed as a longshot to win this best-of-7 series.

Yet, the Blue Jackets choose to ignore, rather than embrace, the underdog role.

"We don't care what's being said one way or another," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. "We're going to be focused on our preparation and play and that's how we're going to go about it."

Video: Previewing Columbus vs. Tampa Bay First Round matchup

Tampa Bay has outscored the Blue Jackets 28-7 in winning six straight against Columbus the past two seasons, including 17-3 in three games this season: home wins of 8-2 on Oct. 13 and 4-0 on Jan. 8 at Amalie Arena, and 5-1 in Columbus on Feb. 18.

A week after the most recent game between the two, the Blue Jackets added forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in separate trades with the Ottawa Senators.

"We added some good players so we're more an all-around team, four lines, six D," Atkinson said. "We're more balanced."

Defenseman Seth Jones said the three losses to the Lightning weren't as bad as they appeared.

"You look at the goals. I think they were pretty lopsided this year, but we did a lot of good things in those games," he said. "They capitalized on their chances. That's just the way those games went but it's a new season, a new time now."

Video: Which Wild Card team is likely to advance?

The Blue Jackets have more incentive than proving skeptics wrong. Memories of losing the 2018 first round in six games to the Washington Capitals after winning the first two games on the road are still haunting.

"Just hold onto that memory, that feeling, because that was a pretty (lousy) feeling come the end of that season," Foligno said. 

The Blue Jackets have qualified for the playoffs for the third straight season and fifth time overall but have never advanced past the first round.

"It doesn't weigh on us," Atkinson said. "It just gives us some more motivation and fire not to feel the way we've felt the last couple of years."

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