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5 Keys: Lightning at Blue Jackets, Game 3

Vasilevskiy needs big performance for Tampa Bay; Columbus applying pressure to neutralize stretch pass

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

LIGHTNING at BLUE JACKETS

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

Blue Jackets lead best-of-7 series 2-0

The Tampa Bay Lightning won't have leading scorer Nikita Kucherov and may not have defenseman Victor Hedman when they try to avoid going down 3-0 in the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Sunday.

Kucherov was suspended for Game 3 for boarding Blue Jackets defenseman Markus Nutivaara at 15:34 of the third period of Game 2 at Amalie Arena on Friday. The Blue Jackets won 5-1 after defeating the Lightning 4-3 in Game 1.

 

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

 

Hedman, who won the Norris Trophy last season, is a game-time decision because of an injury that might be related to the upper-body injury that caused him to miss the last four games of the regular season. 

"He's been banged up for the last bit," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "It's just if he's not 100 percent confident in his ability to be physical. Hopefully we'll find that out tonight."

The Blue Jackets have outscored the Lightning 9-1, including 4-0 on special teams, in the past five periods. They also swept Games 1 and 2 at the Washington Capitals last season but lost the next four games.

Here are 5 keys for Game 3:

 

1. Vasilevskiy needs big game

Cooper said after Game 2 that goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy is the player he is least concerned about. However, Vasilevskiy hasn't been a difference maker in the series yet. 

Vasilevskiy has a 4.56 goals-against average and .830 save percentage (nine goals on 53 shots) in the two games. He has allowed nine goals on 47 shots (.808) in the past five periods. has been outplayed by Sergei Bobrovsky, who has a 2.00 GAA and .925 save percentage while allowing one goal on 40 shots in the past five periods.

The Lightning need better from Vasilevskiy if they're going to have any chance in Game 3 because at this point they should expect Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets team defense to make their lives difficult on the other end.

 

2. Keep 'D' pressuring up

The Blue Jackets have forced turnovers and stopped the Lightning's stretch pass by having their forwards forecheck aggressively and their defensemen push up into the neutral zone to cut down the gap. 

The Lightning might adjust by having their forwards come back deeper for closer support to their defensemen on the breakout, but Columbus should maintain its aggressiveness to force the Tampa Bay into a chip and chase game.

"Our forecheck has been pretty good most of the time so they haven't had the opportunity to look up ice, their 'D' haven't really, to find those stretch plays," Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones said. "When we see there is pressure from our forwards we can stay a little tighter, a little more aggressive on those plays."

 

3. Stay in control

The Lightning fed right into the Blue Jackets' hands in Game 2, when they stopped trying to make plays and opted instead to play more chip and chase, which isn't their style. 

It led to Tampa Bay outhitting Columbus 30-14 after two periods. Columbus also led 3-0.

The Lightning don't want to lead in the hits department by a two-to-one margin at any point because it means they don't have the puck. They must play within themselves, poised and under control. 

 

4. Get a lead

An early lead for the Blue Jackets will put an even greater amount of pressure on the Lightning. They're already under scrutiny for how they've played in the series and if they go down early again, the five-alarm fire Cooper referred to after Game 2 could spread out of control.

 

5. Shoot on power play

Tampa Bay is 0-for-5 with seven shots on goal on the power play in part because it hasn't had enough of a shooting mentality. Columbus' penalty killers deserve credit for the Lightning's struggles because they're taking away options with their pressure.

The Lightning can force the Blue Jackets to back off if they move the puck around with more precision and shoot when there are openings, even if it's not their best look. It'll be harder now because their power play runs through Kucherov in the right circle and he won't be there.

Brayden Point is expected to be in the right circle, but he's a righty and Kucherov is a lefty, so the one-timer that is typically available for Kucherov might be harder to get with Point.

"Is it going to change our look a little bit?" Cooper said. "There's no question."

 

Lightning projected lineup

Mathieu Joseph -- Steven Stamkos -- Yanni Gourde

Ondrej Palat -- Brayden Point -- Tyler Johnson

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

Adam Erne -- Cedric Paquette -- Ryan Callahan

Victor Hedman -- Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh -- Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev -- Jan Rutta

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue

Scratched: Braydon Coburn, Danick Martel

Injured: Anton Stralman (lower body)

Suspended: Nikita Kucherov

 

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, Lukas Sedlak, Adam Clendening

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

 

Status report

Callahan, who did not dress the first two games of the series, goes in for Kucherov. He has 39 points (20 goals, 19 assists) in 119 playoff games with the New York Rangers (59) and Lightning (60). … Coburn would replace Hedman. … Stralman participated in an optional skate. … Nutivaara did not practice and Clendening will play if he is out. … McQuaid and Murray skated with the reserves on the auxiliary rink. Murray has missed 26 games, McQuaid seven.

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