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Lightning face Blue Jackets with 'extra motivation' after playoff loss

Visit Columbus for first time since being swept in opening round

by Craig Merz / Independent Correspondent

COLUMBUS -- The Tampa Bay Lightning will play the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Monday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV) driven to take another step toward erasing the memory of a premature end to their 2018-19 season.

For the first time since a 7-3 loss to the Blue Jackets in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 16, 2019, the Lightning return to Nationwide Arena. 

They had high hopes of winning the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2004 after tying an NHL record with 62 wins (1995-96 Detroit Red Wings). Those hopes were dashed when the Blue Jackets became the first team to sweep a Presidents' Trophy winner in the first round. It was the first playoff series win for the Blue Jackets in their history.

Video: Blue Jackets sweep Lightning for first series win

"It's a regular-season game, but these guys did get us out of the playoffs, so I guess there's a little bit of extra motivation there," Lightning forward Brayden Point said.

The Lightning and Blue Jackets have a lot to play for while competing for playoff positions this season. Tampa Bay (35-15-5) has won six consecutive games and is five points behind the Boston Bruins for first place in the Atlantic Division and the NHL. Columbus (30-17-9) is 9-1-1 in its past 11 games and third in the Metropolitan Division. 

Emotions should also be high for the rematch of what was a contentious best-of-7 series. Columbus defenseman Markus Nutivaara missed the remainder of the playoffs after being boarded by Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov at 15:34 of third period in Game 2.

Kucherov was suspended for Game 3.

"Anytime you go into a battle with a team in a playoff series there's just some leftover feelings, whether you win or lose," Blue Jackets forward Nick Foligno said. "It's just another game against a really good team, but also a team that that's been a measuring stick in this League for a long time." 

If the Lightning needed further reminder of their previous visit to Columbus, they'll find it in the hallway leading to the locker rooms. On the left side there are seven large murals. The one in the middle is Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand scoring against Andrei Vasilevskiy with several Lightning players helpless to stop him.

"They'll probably notice it and they probably won't like it. We'll see," Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones said.

The picture is there because the first playoff series win in Blue Jackets history still resonates.

"It was a huge turning point for us to get past the first round," Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson said. "The city rallied around us and the fans were so supportive. They still talk about that."

So do the players.

"It's a new year," Point said. "We can't look at last year and be nervous or scared of playing these guys. They're obviously a great team. They play fantastic defense and they work really hard. But it is up to us to keep playing our game and not trying to change because of the opponent." independent correspondent Corey Long contributed to this story

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