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Blue Jackets advance in playoffs behind clutch play, Bobrovsky

Special teams, scoring depth, Duchene power stunning first-round sweep of Lightning

by Craig Merz / Correspondent

The Columbus Blue Jackets advanced to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since they joined the NHL in 2000-01.

They completed the first sweep of the Presidents' Trophy winner in the Eastern Conference First Round by defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-3 in Game 4 of the best-of-7 series at Nationwide Arena on Tuesday.

Columbus will open on the road against the winner of the Boston Bruins-Toronto Maple Leafs series, which the Maple Leafs lead 2-1. Game 4 is at Toronto on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVAS, NESN).

Here are 5 reasons the Blue Jackets advanced:


1. Answering the bell

The Blue Jackets responded to every challenge. After having been outscored 17-3 in losing all three regular season games to the Lightning, they trailed 3-0 after the first period in Game 1. Columbus scored the next four goals to win 4-3.

In Game 2, the Blue Jackets led 3-0 before Lightning defenseman Mikhail Sergachev scored at 5:00 of the third to make it 3-1. Tampa Bay's comeback bid was quieted when forward Riley Nash extended Columbus' lead to 4-1 at 9:06, and the Blue Jackets won 5-1.

When the Lightning closed to within 2-1 in third period of Game 3, Columbus stood firm, and forward Cam Atkinson scored an empty-net goal in a 3-1 win.

In Game 4, when the Lightning cut the Blue Jackets' lead to 2-1, defenseman Seth Jones made it 3-1. After Tampa Bay tied it 3-3 on a goal by center Brayden Point at 17:52 of the second period, Columbus forward Oliver Bjorkstrand scored the winner 54 seconds later during a delayed penalty.

"It shows the character and resiliency we've had all year," Atkinson said.

Video: TBL@CBJ, Gm4: Bjorkstrand cleans up rebound in front


2. Bobrovsky to the rescue

There were questions surrounding goalie Sergei Bobrovsky entering the postseason. The two-time Vezina Trophy winner had a 5-14 record with a 3.49 goals-against average and .891 save percentage in 24 NHL playoff games entering the series. 

He did little to allay those doubts in the first period of Game 1, when the Blue Jackets fell behind 3-0, but he made an outstanding save 26 seconds into the second period on Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov, the leading scorer in the NHL this season, and the rest is history. Bobrovsky capped the series in Game 4 with several great saves, including on point-blank shot by center Cedric Paquette with 3:58 to play.

Bobrovsky had a 2.01 goals-against average and .932 save percentage in the series. He allowed five goals over the final 11 periods against the top-scoring team in the NHL in the regular season (3.89 per game).

"He's the backbone of our team," Jones said. "We go as he goes. You've seen that so far in the postseason."

Video: CBJ@TBL, Gm2: Bobrovsky fights off Stamkos' one-timer


3. Specially good

The Lightning had the best power play in the NHL during the regular season (28.2 percent) but had one opportunity in the final two games. They scored once in six opportunities in the series and allowed a shorthanded goal. 

The Blue Jackets were 5-for-10 on the power play and allowed a shorthanded goal; Jones scored the Game 1 winner on the power play at 14:05 of the third. Columbus jumped to a 3-0 lead in Game 2 thanks to power-play goals by defenseman Zach Werenski and center Matt Duchene. In Game 3, Bjorkstrand's power-play goal made it 2-0.


4. Team effort

The late-season insertion of rookie forward Alexandre Texier for Alexander Wennberg solidified the third line and allowed center Nick Foligno to move to the fourth line with Nash and Brandon Dubinsky to give the Blue Jackets the most complete lineup they've ever had top-to-bottom.

Twelve players scored at least one goal in the series, including three defensemen, and 15 players had at least one point.

"It couldn't be just one line to beat that team," said Foligno, the Blue Jackets captain. "It took all lines, our defense, and especially [Bobrovsky]."


5. Duchene's production

Duchene, who entered the postseason with six assists in eight NHL playoff games with the Colorado Avalanche, showed why the Blue Jackets acquired him in a trade from the Ottawa Senators on Feb. 22, leading them with seven points (three goals, four assists) in the series and tying Atkinson for the best rating (plus-5).

Though he has been in Columbus less than two months, Duchene understood how hungry the fans were for their first series win. His uncle, Newell Brown, was a Blue Jackets assistant in their first four seasons, from 2000-04.

"I know how much this franchise has meant to this city," Duchene said.

Video: TBL@CBJ, Gm3: Duchene roofs backhander on rebound

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