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5 Keys: Blue Jackets at Lightning, Game 1

Tampa Bay must set tone early; Bobrovsky needs to stand tall for Columbus

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer


7 p.m. ET; USA, SN360, TVAS, SUN, FS-O


The Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets will play Game 1 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round at Amalie Arena on Wednesday.

The Lightning tied the NHL record for most wins in a season with 62, set by the Detroit Red Wings in 1995-96, and finished with 128 points, fourth on the NHL's all-time list for points in a season. Tampa Bay also won all three games against Columbus, outscoring the Blue Jackets 17-3.

"Game 1 is a big teller of what's going to happen, matchups and all that," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "You've just got to find a way to weather through it and sneak it out."


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


Here are 5 keys for Game 1:


1. Plant seed of doubt early

The Blue Jackets are confident they can pull the upset. The Lightning could crush their confidence if they jump on them in the first period and lead going into the first intermission.

Tampa Bay was 39-4-3 when scoring the first goal and 31-1-2 when leading after the first period this season.

"We don't like to let things slip," Cooper said. "We earned home ice for a reason, don't let that slip, take advantage of what you can."


2. Bob's one job

Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has to change the narrative that he's not a good playoff goalie. It's following him into this series and it will follow him into Game 2, only with harsher criticism, if he doesn't give his team a chance in Game 1.

Bobrovsky is 5-14 with a 3.49 goals-against average and .891 save percentage in 24 career playoff appearances, including 20 starts. He's 1-3 with a .897 save percentage in series openers.


3. Ratchet up the intensity

The Lightning didn't coast into the playoffs even though they clinched a playoff berth on March 9 and locked up the Presidents' Trophy on March 18. They won six in a row after securing a spot in the postseason and went 6-3-0 after nailing down the Presidents' Trophy.

"You don't want to get into bad habits," defenseman Dan Girardi said. "When you clinch that early that could creep in but it didn't at all for us. I thought we did a really good job of handling our success this year."

There is, however, a different level of intensity they have to have find early in Game 1, because their opponent has had it for the past few weeks.

Columbus had to get hot at the end of the season just to get into the playoffs, going 7-1-0 in its final eight games.

"I don't think there is going to be very much of a feeling-out period tonight," Girardi said. "I think after the first shift it's going to be, 'Let's go and see what happens.' "


4. Hedman's health

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman missed the final four games of the season with an upper-body injury. However, he has been a full participant in practice since Monday and he will play in Game 1.

Hedman wasn't off long enough for his game to be rusty, but it'll be a good test for him early in Game 1 anyway just to feel his way back into the game at a high level. The Lightning need him at 100 percent because he's arguably their most important skater; he was fifth on Tampa Bay in scoring this season with 54 points (12 goals, 42 assists) in 70 games.


5. Keeping Kucherov in check

Lightning right wing Nikita Kucherov won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL leading scorer with 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists) in 82 games, including nine points (four goals, five assists) in three games against Columbus.

How the Blue Jackets attempt to check Kucherov will be interesting to watch because they must find a way to slow down a player nobody, including them, could slow down this season.

Kucherov had at least two points in 38 games this season; the Lightning went 38-0-0 in those games.

"We feel we have gone through the tendencies of that team, and obviously he's an important one, and have come up with in our mind entering Game 1 the best way to play not just against him, but against that team," Columbus coach John Tortorella said. "We'll see if we can come through with it."


Blue Jackets projected lineup

Artemi Panarin -- Pierre-Luc Dubois -- Cam Atkinson

Ryan Dzingel -- Matt Duchene -- Josh Anderson

Alexandre Texier -- Nick Foligno -- Oliver Bjorkstrand

Brandon Dubinsky -- Boone Jenner -- Riley Nash

Zach Werenski -- Seth Jones

Markus Nutivaara -- David Savard

Scott Harrington -- Dean Kukan

Sergei Bobrovsky

Joonas Korpisalo

Scratched: Keith Kinkaid, Eric Robinson, Andrew Peeke, Alexander Wennberg, Markus Hannikainen

Injured: Adam McQuaid (upper body), Ryan Murray (upper body)


Lightning projected lineup

Yanni Gourde -- Brayden Point -- Nikita Kucherov

Ondrej Palat -- Steven Stamkos -- Tyler Johnson

Alex Killorn -- Anthony Cirelli -- J.T. Miller

Adam Erne -- Cedric Paquette -- Mathieu Joseph

Victor Hedman -- Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh -- Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev -- Jan Rutta

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue

Scratched: Braydon Coburn, Cameron Gaunce, Danick Martel, Ryan Callahan

Injured: Anton Stralman (lower body)


Status report

Each team held an optional skate. … Stralman skated early but did not participate in the morning skate. correspondent Corey Long contributed to this report

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