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Round 1

Lightning vs. Blue Jackets playoff preview

Potent offense leads Tampa Bay against Bobrovsky, Columbus

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Lightning: 62-16-4, 128 points, first in Atlantic

Blue Jackets: 47-31-4, 98 points, fifth in Metropolitan, second wild card in Eastern Conference

Season series: TBL 3-0-0; CBJ 0-3-0


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


The skinny

The Tampa Bay Lightning tied the NHL record shared by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most wins in a season and finished with the fourth-most points in history. Right wing Nikita Kucherov set records in winning the Art Ross Trophy as the leading scorer in the NHL (128 points; 41 goals, 87 assists).

Kucherov set Lightning records for most assists and points in a single season. He broke the NHL record for most points by a Russia-born player (Alexander Mogilny, 127 points in 1992-93) and had the most points by any player since 1995-96, when Mario Lemieux had 161 and Jaromir Jagr had 149 with the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"But now it's, quote-unquote, the second season," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. 

One of the Lightning's more impressive feats of the season is how they finished, going 10-3-0 after clinching a Stanley Cup Playoff berth March 9.

Video: Previewing Columbus vs. Tampa Bay First Round matchup

"We've been ready for a while," center Steven Stamkos said. "But give our group a lot of credit for continuing to come to the rink every day, regardless of where we sat in the standings, and just wanting to win."

The Columbus Blue Jackets went 7-1-0 in their final eight games and clinched a playoff berth with a 3-2 shootout win at the New York Rangers on Friday.

Getting into the playoffs was a relief after the Blue Jackets made the biggest splash in the NHL before the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 25. They added pending unrestricted free agent forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel in separate trades with the Ottawa Senators. They also kept forward Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, each pending UFAs.

The Blue Jackets went 5-7-1 in their first 13 games after the deadline and were on the outside of the playoff race March 21. But they found their way in, outscoring the opposition 35-14 with three shutouts by Bobrovsky in their final eight games. Panarin had 11 points (three goals, eight assists), including the shootout winner against the Rangers. 

"We're not done," forward Nick Foligno said. "I think we're a team that feels really confident now that we've gotten in with everything we've faced and gone through. I think you're just seeing us become more of a team."


Game breakers

Lightning: The list of candidates is long, including centers Stamkos and Brayden Point, who scored 45 and 41 goals, respectively. But Tampa Bay's gamebreaker has to be Kucherov, who is the favorite to win the Hart Trophy as NHL MVP. He played in all 82 games and had at least one point in 62 of them, including two or more in 38. Tampa Bay went 54-5-3 when he had a point and 8-11-1 when he didn't.

Blue Jackets: Columbus acquired Panarin in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on June 23, 2017 because it needed a forward with his dynamic offensive ability. Panarin has been everything the Blue Jackets thought they were getting when they made the trade for Brandon Saad. He had 87 points (28 goals, 59 assists) in 79 games this season, setting team records for assists and points for the second straight season after getting 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists) in 81 games of 2017-18.



Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy was first in wins (39) and save percentage (.925), second in goals-against average (2.40) and third with six shutouts among goalies who played at least 50 games. Backup Louis Domingue didn't dress in the final four games because of a lower-body injury and is day to day. He went 21-5-0 with a 2.88 GAA and .908 save percentage in 26 games. Edward Pasquale would be the backup if Domingue isn't ready. He allowed 12 goals and won one game in three starts.

Blue Jackets: Bobrovsky went 6-1-0 with a 1.50 GAA, .947 save percentage and three shutouts in seven straight starts from March 24-April 5. He finished second behind Vasilevskiy in wins with 37, including an NHL high nine shutouts, and had a 2.58 GAA and .913 save percentage. Bobrovsky has had his problems in the playoffs, going 5-14 with a 3.49 GAA and .891 save percentage in 24 games (20 starts). Joonas Korpisalo, Bobrovsky's backup, started 21 games and went 10-7-3.


Numbers to know

Lightning: They finished first on the power play (28.2 percent) and were tied for second on the penalty kill (85.0 percent) with the Blue Jackets after finishing 28th on the PK last season (76.1 percent). The Lightning had a plus-103 goal differential (325-222) including shootout-deciding goals. They were 39-4-3 in games they scored the first goal and 23-12-1 when they allowed the first goal. They were the first team with three 40-goal scorers (Stamkos, Kucherov, Point) since the Penguins in 1995-96 (Lemieux 69, Jagr 62, Petr Nedved 45).

Blue Jackets: They set team records for road wins (25) and points (52) and had a plus-18 goal differential in road games. The Blue Jackets were shorthanded 200 times, fewest in the NHL, and allowed the fewest power-play goals (30). Forward Oliver Bjorkstrand scored eight goals in his final eight games. Columbus is 5-16 all time in the playoffs. The Blue Jackets were outscored by the Lightning 17-3 in three games this season.  


Injury report

Lightning: Victor Hedman, who won the Norris Trophy as the top defenseman in the NHL last season, missed the last four games with an upper-body injury and is considered day to day, but Cooper said the Lightning were hopeful Hedman, who had 54 points (12 goals, 42 assists) in 70 games, would practice and be available for Game 1.

Blue Jackets: Defenseman Ryan Murray (29 points; one goal, 28 assists) missed the last 24 games with an upper-body injury. He was placed on injured reserve Feb. 22 and is week to week. Defenseman Adam McQuaid, who the Blue Jackets added before the trade deadline, missed the last five games with an upper-body injury and his status is unclear. 


They said it

"That was unlike anything a lot of us have ever been through in our careers, being clinched for so long 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 captain Steven Stamkos

"The best message that we can learn from all these games that we've played is when we stick with it, when we play that style of game when we get on our forecheck, when we can consistently just go at it no matter what is going on in the game and react to things the right way, we give ourselves a chance to be a great team and a hard team. When we don't, teams can capitalize." -- Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno


Will win if …

Lightning: They play their game. This is simple for the Lightning because they have dominated the NHL by playing fast and aggressive. They never believe they're out of a game and they shouldn't because of the firepower they have. Vasilevskiy must be on his game and the special teams have to stay as strong as they were in the regular season. If the Lightning don't change, they should win. 

Blue Jackets: They make it hard by being stingy defensively and staying out of the penalty box. They won't defeat the Lightning in a speed game or by trading chances. They must rely on an aggressive forecheck, strong wall play, tight gaps and great goaltending. They need their top-two forward lines to drive the offense, because even if they do all of the above, they're going to have to score. Shutting down the Lightning for an entire series likely won't happen.


How they look

Lightning projected lineup

Ondrej Palat -- Steven Stamkos -- Yanni Gourde

Tyler Johnson -- Brayden Point -- Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn -- Anthony Cirelli -- Mathieu Joseph

Adam Erne -- Cedric Paquette -- J.T. Miller

Victor Hedman -- Anton Stralman

Ryan McDonagh -- Erik Cernak

Braydon Coburn -- Mikhail Sergachev

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue

Scratched: Dan Girardi, Ryan Callahan, Danick Martel, Cameron Gaunce, Edward Pasquale, Jan Rutta


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

Dean Kukan -- Scott Harrington

Sergei Bobrovsky

Joonas Korpisalo

Scratched: Alexander Wennberg, Markus Hannikainen, Lukas Sedlak, Eric Robinson, Adam Clendening, Andrew Peeke, Keith Kinkaid, Elvis Merzlikins


Listen: NHL Fantasy on Ice playoff previews: Eastern Conference | Western Conference

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