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Lightning facing must-win Game 4 against Blue Jackets

Would become first team to earn Presidents' Trophy, be swept in first round with loss

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

COLUMBUS -- The Tampa Bay Lightning's historic season has come down to a must-win Game 4 in the Eastern Conference First Round. Lose it, and they'll forever remember what went wrong against the Columbus Blue Jackets instead of what went right for 62 wins in the regular season.

That's the shocking predicament the Lightning are in after losing 3-1 to the Blue Jackets in Game 3 at Nationwide Arena on Sunday. 

They trail 3-0 in the best-of-7 series with Game 4 at Columbus on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, SN360, TVAS, FS-O, SUN). 

 

[WATCH: Lightning vs. Blue Jackets Game 3 highlights | Complete series coverage]

 

No team that has won the Presidents' Trophy has ever been swept in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and has only been swept twice in history (Detroit Red Wings, 1995 Stanley Cup Final; Calgary Flames, 1988 Smythe Division Final).

"As far as I know, we're playing Tuesday, right?" Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "So we're still alive."

Video: Blue Jackets beat Lightning, go up 3-0 in series

Maybe it's optimism out of despair or stubbornness out of hope, but the Lightning don't just feel they're alive, they feel they finally discovered the way to defeat the Blue Jackets in the playoffs by how they played in the third period Sunday.

"We started to make some plays," Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said. "Throughout the game and throughout the series, I thought we were keeping it too simple in a way. We have a lot of skill in this room. We need to use it."

They did for most of the final 20 minutes and even got a goal to show for it from Ondrej Palat at 4:40 to cut it to 2-1. The Lightning kept attacking and finding ways to control the puck into the zone and make plays through the middle once they were there.

They outshot Columbus 17-8, but couldn't put another one by Sergei Bobrovsky before Cam Atkinson sealed the Blue Jackets' win with an empty-net goal with one minute remaining.

"If anything, maybe we found a recipe to break some of their structure there," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "But obviously, it wasn't good enough."

It was, however, everything the Lightning weren't doing in the seven periods they played since outscoring the Blue Jackets 3-0 in a dominant first period of Game 1. They finally had the Blue Jackets on their heels. A little stressed out, too, Columbus defenseman Seth Jones said.

It actually makes you wonder if the Lightning would have been able to come all the way back to win the game if they had forward Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Victor Hedman for the final push. 

Kucherov, who led the NHL with 128 points (41 goals, 87 assists) in the regular season, wasn't available because he was serving a one-game suspension for boarding Columbus defenseman Markus Nutivaara late in Game 2.

Hedman was scratched with an undisclosed injury.

"But I thought we battled," Cooper said.

Now the Lightning are hoping to build on what they did in the third and use it to their advantage early in Game 4.

Their historic season won't mean much if they don't. 

"You're doing yourself a disservice if you're looking at the big picture," Cooper said. "I do know there was a lot of positive energy in that room after the third period."

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