The Columbus Blue Jackets will host the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 of their best-of-seven series in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs tonight at Nationwide Arena. The Jackets have a chance to do something they’ve never done in franchise history: clinch a series to advance to the second round. Puck drop is scheduled for shortly after 7:00 PM ET.
With a 3-0 lead, the CBJ are in uncharted territory. Add to the fact that this opportunity comes at home against the best team in the National Hockey League during the regular season, and the Blue Jackets will arguably be playing their most important game in franchise history tonight.
The narrative ahead of Game 3 was the Jackets being in this same position a year ago: coming back home with a 2-0 series lead, only to lose four straight games to the Washington Capitals, who went on to win the Stanley Cup.
For a few minutes in the third period on Sunday night, fans could have easily started having flashbacks. Holding a 2-0 lead, the Jackets allowed a goal to the Lightning, who started to come alive in the final 20 minutes.
Rather than getting flustered, the CBJ maintained composure, added an empty-net goal for good measure, and held on for the 3-1 win.
Another spectacular performance from Sergei Bobrovsky didn’t hurt either.
Since allowing three goals in the first period of Game 1, Bob and the CBJ defense have limited the Lightning, who averaged nearly four goals per game in the regular season, to two goals in eight periods.
Nikita Kucherov, who was suspended for Game 3, will be back on the ice for the Lightning tonight in Game 4. Although he had been held off the scoresheet in Games 1 and 2, his 128 points registered during the regular season means he could be a force to be reckoned with offensively if he wakes up in this series.
While the Lightning may appear to have their backs against the wall, they have shown the ability to rattle off wins in bunches throughout this season. None of their streaks in the regular season had the kind of implications that this game tonight has, however.
The Blue Jackets have put themselves in position to advance with just one win in their next four games. With a win tonight, they’ll not only make a statement to their fanbase, but also the hockey world. They’ve been playing their best hockey of the season over the last three games, and if that continues tonight then they’ll be booking their trips to Round 2 before the evening’s up.