The Tampa Bay Lightning took a two games to one series lead over the Columbus Blue Jackets last night with their 3-2 game three victory.
One of the biggest storylines continuing through this series is when we may see the return of Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who has been sidelined with an injury since before the pause.
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Last night’s game was pretty close one overall, despite some back and forth pushes in pressure by both clubs. Columbus has done a remarkable job keeping up with the speedy, high octane Tampa group that took the East’s second seed.
Both teams came out strong last night and struggled to make it past the lines of defense throughout the neutral zone. The first 15 or so minutes consisted of primarily of back and forth play and not a whole lot of even strength chances.
However, Tampa got into trouble early in this game and was sent to the box on several occasions during the first period. Columbus was unable to capitalize on any of those man-advantages, one of which was a five on three two man advantage. Tampa held their own in their defensive zone and was able to keep the score even.
Not long after, Tampa’s Alex Killorn notched the games first goal off of turnover with a tricky backhand shot through the legs of Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo.
Back and forth battle
Columbus tied the game early in the second period after a quick rush and snipe off the left side by Riley Nash. After some more back and forth between the two clubs, Tampa’s Brayden Point jumped on a rebound to give his team the lead with about five minutes to go in the period. Then with a minute to go, the Lightning recovered the puck after a Columbus turnover and entered the offensive zone on a three on two odd man rush. Trailing behind was Victor Hedman who received a pass in the high slot and whipped it by Korpisalo.
The Lightning clearly dominated the second period after the Blue Jackets early equalizer. The were quicker, stronger, and had the better chances. Columbus really didn’t play poorly in the period but wasn’t able to capitalize on their chances as well as Tampa.
Taking a 3-1 lead into the final period, this was Tampa’s game to lose. They had control of the momentum and the scoreboard, and just needed to close it out. A little over a minute in, Columbus’ Eric Robinson took a shot from the point that rebounded outward off of Tampa’s Cedric Paquette. He was able to find his own rebound and put it past Andrei Vasilevskiy before the netminder was able to get over to cover the net.
Tampa was able to sufficiently lock it down defensively and went on to take the game and now the series lead. Columbus made some very strong pushes late in the period but was not able to get the puck to the back of the net.
There are a few key points I noticed from this bout. The first one and most obvious one was discipline, specifically on Tampa. The Lightning got into early trouble and had men frequenting the penalty box.
This team is a serious Cup contender, but this is an issue that can derail them if it is recurring. Not only does the lack of discipline give the opponent the chance to capitalize, but it keeps their best offensive players, such as Nikita Kucherov, off of the ice for extended periods of time.
Columbus is not as high-octane as many other teams in the playoffs, so Tampa was able to survive those errors. However, a lack of discipline against a team like Philadelphia or Boston will come back to bite them.
Luckily for Tampa, they were able to use the momentum behind their successful penalty killing to put the pressure on for the rest of the first period after that key two man advantage.
However, Tampa also struggled to play consistently sound defense. Last minute defensive efforts and solid goaltending kept the puck out of the net, but there were far too may odd man rushes and defensive lapses that allowed Columbus to get chances in the offensive zone. Similarly to the discipline issue, Columbus is not as skilled as some other postseason teams, so Tampa got lucky. They’ll get wrecked by some other teams if they continue to turn the puck over.
Another key takeaway is the fact the Columbus is managing to hang with one of the leagues best teams with a far inferior roster. The credit for this must go to long time NHL bench boss John Tortorella, who has done a masterful job motivating his young and scrappy team during this postseason.
Ultimately, I do not think that the Blue Jackets will be able to overcome Tampa in this series, but they are certainly making it a hard fought battle and performing better than I thought they would.
The last key takeaway from this one is Brayden Point. The Lightning forward is on fire to begin this postseason. He has notched seven points in six games played, including four goals. The most notable of these goals was the game winning goal in the game one 5OT marathon that occurred just a few days ago.
Point is the best player on his team right now and is scoring goals at perfect times. If he continues his play, Tampa will be well on their way to the next round and possibly beyond.
Game four of this exciting first round matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets is Monday at 3 PM on NBCSN.