The Columbus Blue Jackets have taken a 3-0 series lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Jackets have been cool, composed and consistent. For 82 games we were all wondering where this was. It’s a new season. And this team is hot.
Columbus lost four consecutive games after taking a 2-0 series lead in the first round last year against the Washington Capitals.
Fast forward to the 4:40 mark of the third period in Game 3 against the Lighting. Andrej Palat scored a goal to cut the CBJ lead in half. The Jackets were still leading 2-1, but it suddenly felt like the Lightning were about to strike twice and even the score. Columbus faced a pivotal moment that could ultimately decide their first-round fate.
Head Coach John Tortorella talked about the events that ensued after Tampa scored their lone goal of the evening:
I thought we looked a little nervous in the third period after they scored their goal…We gave up quite a bit of speed through that neutral zone. It’s something we’re gonna have to look at and, and try to remedy for our next game.
After a combined 14 shots through two periods, the Lightning wreaked havoc for the final 20 minutes, with 17 shots on goal.
In that third period, when, they came at us…I thought Bob stood in there…he made some very good saves for us.
Tampa Bay hit multiple posts and were unable to come through in the clutch, eerily similar to the Jackets’ fate in a Game-3 loss a year ago. While Columbus earned the victory, the team on the ice had more than just a roaring crowd behind them. The hockey gods seem to finally be rewarding the Jackets, who have yet to win a series in the history of their franchise.
Captain Nick Foligno commented on what’s different about this particular team down the stretch:
I think we’re confident in…these close games and…we’re confident in uncomfortable situations…That’s important in playoff hockey.
Oddly enough, it’s the Lightning who were utterly dominant in the regular season and are clearly frustrated in key moments. They’re only the 2nd team in NHL history to have a .780 win percentage in the regular season and lose their first three postseason games (as seen on SportsCenter).
Early on, Tampa was shut down. They only registered three shots on goal in the first period.
The crowd at Nationwide Arena erupted at the 1:44 mark of the second period. Cam Atkinson deflected a shot that was saved by Andrei Vasilevskiy before Matt Duchene rebounded the puck and backhanded it into the net to give the CBJ a 1-0 lead. Once again, the Lightning had to dig themselves out of a hole.
Columbus, like they’ve done throughout the series, kept their foot on the gas. At the 8:25 mark, Alexandre Texier had a nice pass from the left board to Seth Jones, who found Oliver Bjorkstrand. From there, OBJ left no doubt, firing the puck and giving the Jackets a 2-0 lead. It was a power-play goal, with Texier earning his first career playoff assist.
Torts described the Bjorkstrand goal:
We had a good screen. And Bjorky just buried it.
Bjorkstrand, who found his scoring touch at the end of the regular season, described what’s been working for the CBJ power play that’s been successful on four of eight opportunities this series:
Just moving the puck…Making the right plays…Playing with confidence…We were just getting shots through…Good traffic…Good screens and so on.
Many have wondered why the Jackets have found a way to take a 3-0 series lead. Bjorkstrand commented with this:
We just believed in our group..We just stuck to our gameplan…Come out working hard.
Seth Jones, who’s the top defenseman for the CBJ; a unit that hasn’t allowed a single power-play goal to the Lightning in the series, described his team’s performance in Game 3:
I thought we played a, a patient game…Each team had surges throughout the game…A lot of momentum swings…I thought we handled ourselves very well tonight.
Credit can be given all around the board, but it’s Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky who deserves the most. He saved 30 of the 31 shots on goal last night. For the series, Bob has saved 79 of 84 shots his way, good for a .940 save percentage.
Torts had this to say about Bob’s preparation:
The way he prepares, it’s second to none.
The Columbus Blue Jackets were nervous and on their heels for a few minutes after allowing a goal in the third period, but for the most part, this team has been composed and calm on the ice. On the other side, it’s impossible to not notice the frustration for the Lightning, who seem to have nothing going in their favor lately.
Nikita Kucherov will return to the Tampa Bay lineup in Game 4. Kucherov led the NHL with 128 points during the regular season. He will likely play 20+ minutes following his one-game suspension and the Lightning on the brink of elimination.
The CBJ have taken a businesslike approach. They’ve stressed preparing for the next game and not paying much attention (if any at all) to the previous result. While the approach may seem quite cliche on the outside, it’s evident that it’s working for Columbus, who will have a chance to sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.
This is the playoffs. This is where things stand. Enjoy it, Columbus.