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Blue Jackets confident, cautious prior to Game 3

'We know how good' the Lightning are, GM says with series lead

by Craig Merz / Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets are taking nothing for granted after winning the first two games on the road against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference First Round.

With the best-of-7 series moving to Columbus for Game 3 on Sunday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVAS, FS-O, SUN), the Blue Jackets are in the same position they were in the first round last season, when they came home after winning the first two games against the Washington Capitals.

The Capitals won the next four, including three in Columbus, to extend the Blue Jackets' record of never having won a series in four tries.

Columbus is 2-8 at home in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.


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


"We believe in our team, but we know how good the opponent is, and we're taking nothing for granted and appreciating every little piece of success we can have throughout the series," Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen said during a teleconference Saturday. 

He said he is confident the Blue Jackets can avoid repeating the playoff failure of last season because of how they've navigated the potentially disruptive situation when goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and forward Artemi Panarin said prior to the season they would not sign with Columbus when they become unrestricted free agents July 1.

"There have been certain moments with this team where we've faced adversity, issues that had to be aired out in front of everybody," Kekalainen said. "It takes honesty. Sometimes it takes a little bit of conflict maybe to resolve those things."

He credits coach John Tortorella for keeping the players focused.

"He's an honest guy that goes about his business," Kekalainen said. "Even if they are difficult issues to deal with, he's going to deal with them head-on and not let them linger and get into a distraction in the locker room.

"That's what we've done a couple of times this year. They're not always easy things to handle, the possible conflicts, but he goes about it the right way."

Not all the attention has been on Tortorella. The heat has been on Kekalainen since Columbus traded draft picks and prospects to acquire centers Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in separate trades with the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 22 and 23, and defenseman Adam McQuaid in a trade with the New York Rangers on Feb. 25.

The Blue Jackets stumbled for a while and didn't earn a playoff berth until the next-to-last game of the regular season. They have won nine of their past 10 games and as the second wild card in the East are looking to upset the Lightning, who tied the NHL record with 62 wins, set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96. Tampa Bay's 128 points were fourth on the NHL all-time list and 30 more than Columbus.

Kekalainen said Columbus must continue the "Blue Jackets style" in order to win the series.

"It's hard work and relentless on our forechecking battles, winning battles," he said. "It's something we've got to keep doing. It's another opportunity tomorrow to play the same way. It's the Blue Jackets brand. 

"We've been preaching our identity for a long time. We're a hard team to play against and nothing comes easy from your opponent."

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