What if I told you a 128-point juggernaut went from a Stanley-Cup favorite to a massive disappointment in a span of six days? That’s exactly what just happened, as the Tampa Bay Lightning did their best impression of a playoff collapse, getting swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning and looking back at what turned out to be a four-game series, it’s apparent that Game 1 triggered the unthinkable.
Oliver Bjorkstrand, who scored the game-winning goal of Game 4, talked about what him and his teammates did to accomplish the unlikely feat:
I think we just stuck with it all series. You know it all started from Game 1…Behind three goals. You know we found a way to win that game and from there we just built on it.
After a come-from-behind 4-3 victory in Game 1, the narrative changed completely.
The CBJ scored the first three goals in Game 2, the first two goals in Game 3, and the first two goals in Game 4.
Not only did the Jackets score first, but they answered quickly in Game 4.
Brayden Point erased a two-goal deficit to tie the game 3-3 at the 17:52 mark of the second period. The Lightning, who never held a lead once after Game 1, seemed to finally be putting things together after scoring their first (and only) power-play goal of the series.
Whatever the Lightning did, it never slowed down Columbus, who answered with a goal of their own 54 seconds later. Oliver Bjorkstrand was positioned in front of the net and buried the biscuit while there was delayed penalty for Tampa Bay.
Cam Atkinson, who recorded 2 goals and 2 assists in the series, had this to say about the goal afterwards:
That was the biggest goal of the series right there.
Atkinson noticed a change in tone after Game 1:
I think we, we stepped on their throats…Especially after that first game we kinda set the tone coming back and, gained a lot of confidence. Each line. All the D pairs and, you know, Bob’s been our best player.
Head Coach John Tortorella knew it was more than just the physicality that made the sweep possible:
You can get so many things accomplished if you just have that belief as a team. To do things the right way.
I’m happy for them cause they, they played as a team and they had a tremendous amount of will. That’s mental. That’s not talent. That’s not physical skills. That is a mental toughness. And that’s what I’m thrilled about.
While the CBJ had all the confidence in the world, it seemed as if everything crumbled and fell apart for the Lightning.
There were plenty moments when it looked as if Tampa Bay was going to find their groove and make something happen in the four-game span. That’s when Sergei Bobrovsky would shut the door.
Every time the Bolts weren’t able to score a pivotal goal to get back into a game, you could see it leaving mental scars that got exponentially bigger as the series continued. The team with the best record in the league found themselves desperate, facing adversity, and unable to answer the bell thanks in large part to Bob and the CBJ defense.
Defenseman David Savard, who scored the second goal in the Game-1 comeback victory, mentioned Bob when elaborating on how Columbus was able to sweep Tampa Bay:
I think we, were just really focused. You know everybody bought in. Whenever there was a breakdown or…There were minutes we weren’t playing as well, I think Bob made some huge save in every game.
Defenseman Seth Jones talked about how Columbus stepped up defensively:
Our forwards did a…hell of a job…with helping us…defensemen and goalie. Really break up plays in the neutral zone. Make it tough for em’ to cross that blue line with speed…That’s really when they generate a lot of offense when they have throughout the season…It’s just all five guys buying into our gameplan.
Torts was pleased with how his team came together in the first round:
I’m so happy for them. Because I think they really can see if you’re a unit, you can get some things accomplished.
While playoff experience is a plus as Columbus moves on, it was Texier, a 19-year old, who scored the first goal in Game 4. It was the first goal of his playoff career and came at the 2:26 mark of the first period. The score came while on the power play, thanks to a tripping minor assessed to Ryan McDonagh.
Big Tex isn’t afraid of the moment, and talked about how he approached the first round:
I came here…Play my game. Have some fun. And help the team and that’s what I do.
Although Tex is a youngster, he gave an informative self evaluation of his play on the ice:
I’m happy about the goal, but…I can play way better…I’m happy about the team but I’m not really happy about my game.
The power-play goal from Texier was one of many for the Jackets, who took advantage in the series, going 5-for-10. Columbus was also impressive defensively on special teams, going 5-for-6 on the penalty kill.
Atkinson talked about what Columbus did to hold the Bolts to only six power-play opportunities:
We didn’t wanna retaliate. We knew if we got under their skin they were gonna take penalties…The last thing we wanna do is put them on the power play.
After converting on the man advantage, it only took the Jackets 88 seconds to extend their lead to 2-0, with Pierre-Luc Dubois getting his first goal of the 2019 playoffs after a Bjorkstrand shot went off the board and right onto his stick at the doorstep.
About five minutes later, a turnover by Seth Jones led to a highlight-reel goal from Steven Stamkos to make it 2-1. Jones, who made up for an early miscue in Game 1 with a game-winning goal, extended the CBJ lead to 3-1 in Game 4 with his second goal of this postseason. The goal was a microcosm of how the Columbus players haven’t been rattled by their mistakes and utilized a short-term memory.
The phrase “fortune favors the bold” comes to mind for the CBJ, as they held on to Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky at the trade deadline, while adding Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel.
Panarin scored one of three empty netters to clinch the series in Game 4 ( Alexandre Texier and Matt Duchene scored the other two) and finished with 2 goals and 3 assists in the sweep.
Bobrovsky’s contribution can’t be understated. Overall, he saved 109 of 117 shots on goal for an impressive .932 save percentage. The “Playoff Bob” slogan that once had a negative connotation, has become a good thing (for the time being).
Duchene finished with seven points (3 goals and 4 assists) and a rating of plus- 5, with his four-point effort in Game 3 being his best performance.
It would be wrong to leave out Josh Anderson when talking about the sweep. Anderson was the epitome of what you want from a player in the postseason. He provided over 15 minutes of ice time per game, had 21 hits, was a force to be reckoned with in the neutral zone, and had a series-defining shorthanded goal to tie the score 3-3 in Game 1.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay was confident their superstar Nikita Kucherov would come up big in the postseason. After 128 points in the regular season, Kucherov was goalless in the series, suspended for Game 3, had two assists, and a lousy rating of minus- 2.
The CBJ underperformed in the regular season, but have shown up in the postseason and shocked everybody.
Captain Nick Foligno, who scored the first goal of the postseason for his squad, talked about the necessary improvement of the team throughout the series and beyond:
It’s just so crucial that we just continue to get better…We’ve talked about just, our next game has to be our best one and I feel like every game we’ve done that…We’re gonna have to find that in this next round.
Torts knows there’s a long way to go, despite the first-round victory, and added:
It’s a hard league to gain respect in this league. We’re certainly going through the process the right way.
For the first time Columbus has made it to Round 2. Atkinson shared his sentiments:
The fans are the ones that deserve all this and, we’re not done yet.
The winner of the best-of-seven series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs will be the next opponent for the CBJ. Until then, feel free to celebrate, you deserve it.