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Lightning will play Blue Jackets in Eastern Conference First Round

Tampa Bay has home-ice advantage, outscored Columbus 17-3 this season

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

The Tampa Bay Lightning will play the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Tampa Bay (62-16-4) finished first in the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference and won the Presidents' Trophy for finishing with the most points in the NHL. The Lightning would have home-ice advantage in each best-of-7 series through the Stanley Cup Final. 

Columbus (47-31-4) finished as the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. 

The Lightning went 3-0-0 against the Blue Jackets this season, outscoring them 17-3. The teams have never met in the playoffs.

"I think once you get to the playoffs -- there's 16 teams in there -- whether you're the first to get in or the last one to get in, it's the playoffs," Blue Jackets forward Pierre-Luc Dubois said. "It's a completely new season. It's a new game. It's not the same game, it tightens up quite a bit. A lot changes. Just to be in there, everyone has a chance."

The Lightning tied the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in an NHL season. Tampa Bay was 6-1 in the shootout, which was instituted in 2005-06; Detroit played seven tie games in 1995-96.

"It's no easy feat in today's NHL with the parity that we have that I think is the greatest in sports," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "To have a season like we did, but there's no satisfaction in this group with the regular season.

"That was unlike anything a lot of us have ever been through in our careers, being clinched for so long (March 18) and being in a position where we knew we were going to be in the playoffs, but we wanted to finish strong and I thought we did. We're ready for playoff hockey."

Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov led the NHL with 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists), the most since 1995-96 when Mario Lemieux of the Pittsburgh Penguins led the NHL with 161 (69 goals, 92 assists) and teammate Jaromir Jagr was second with 149 (62 goals, 87 assists). Kucherov was one of three Lightning players to score at least 40 goals (Brayden Point, 45; Steven Stamkos, 41). Andrei Vasilevskiy led the League with 39 wins.

Cam Atkinson scored 41 goals, one of five players to score at least 20 for the Blue Jackets this season Artemi Panarin, 28; Josh Anderson, 27; Pierre-Luc Dubois, 27; Oliver Bjorkstrand, 23). Matt Duchene (31) and Ryan Dzingel (22) each scored four times after being traded to Columbus by the Ottawa Senators.

"Obviously, [Tampa Bay] can score, so we've got to defend well," Duchene said. "But we can score too. That's a team that likes to open it up a little bit, and obviously they're going to play a little different now that it's playoffs. But I believe we can compete with anyone in this League. We've got to believe that."

Sergei Bobrovsky had 37 wins and led the League with nine shutouts.

"I think it's just relief knowing that you're giving yourself a chance to play on and to go for the Stanley Cup," Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. "That's why we start the year. Another opportunity."

Kucherov (four goals, five assists) and Point (six goals, three assists) each had nine points against Columbus. Mikhail Sergachev had six assists and nine Lightning scored at least one goal. Vasilevskiy stopped 100 of 103 shots (1.00 goals-against average, .971 save percentage) in the three wins.

Anderson, Bjorkstrand and Lukas Sedlak scored for Columbus. Bobrovsky went 0-2-0 allowing 12 goals on 50 shots (6.66 GAA, .760 save percentage). Joonas Korpisalo allowed five goals on 23 shots (4.22 GAA, .783 save percentage) in two games.

The Blue Jackets, who have qualified for the playoffs each of the past three seasons, have never won a playoff series. They took a 2-0 lead against the Washington Capitals in the first round last season before losing the final four games of the best-of-7 series.

"We're not done at all," Foligno said. "I think we're a team that feels really confident now that we've gotten in, just everything we've faced and gone through and grown as a team here together. … Whoever we face, however it goes down, we feel confident that we can play with anyone as long as we're playing our game." staff writer Amalie Benjamin contributed to this report

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