Last Friday, the Blue Jackets defeated the Rangers in a shootout, game No. 81 of the regular season, officially clinching a playoff spot. Afterwards, John Tortorella said the team was going to have fun in the playoffs.
Are we having fun yet?
In wake of the stunning results that have transpired the past few days, Columbus looks like the team we saw out of the Lightning during the regular season. The Lightning, an explosive team with so much firepower, and with exception to their Game 1 first period, look anything but the historic 62-win club that lays claim to the Presidents’ Trophy after a franchise-best 128 points.
How crazy is it that this team, the Blue Jackets, could turn their play around so drastically after that initial first period? Since then, the Jackets have outscored Tampa Bay 9-1. The Lightning, which featured the best regular season power play, have had no answer for the penalty kill co-leading Blue Jackets from the regular season, going 0-for-5 in the two games. Columbus, among the league-worst power plays for two seasons, have gone 3-for-6.
How has #CBJ been affecting TB?— Alison (@AlisonL) April 13, 2019
Using beautiful viz from @ChartingHockey, let’s look at where #GoBolts shot rates were in the regular season compared to two playoff games (sample size alert)
That is some intense shot suppression. pic.twitter.com/U8XPSHoKzI
Sergei Bobrovsky has been virtually unbeatable since that frightful first period, allowing one goal in that span, and putting together the best playoff start of his career in Game 2, a 26 save performance, allowing a career-playoff best one goal.
And Zach Werenski with the first Gordie Howe hat trick in Blue Jackets playoff history.
When we forecasted this series on the podcast, we tried to be excited. But the excitement was subdued knowing the type of buzzsaw that was Tampa in the regular season, and against Columbus, outscoring them 17-3 in the three game regular season sweep. We brought up the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, an eighth seed, nearly running the table en route to the Stanley Cup. The 2010 Capitals, another Presidents’ Trophy winner, getting outplayed by the eighth seeded Canadiens, blowing a 3-1 series lead in the process and losing in seven games. There were those past scenarios to offer a glimmer of hope.
I certainly didn’t come into this series expecting the Jackets to win it. I hoped they would avoid the sweep, push it to six games if we were lucky. I expected a five-game series. Never in my wildest imagination did I expect the Blue Jackets to become just the sixth team in NHL playoff history to beat a No. 1 seed after trailing by at least three goals. And definitely not for that to happen against these Lightning.
I expected an angry Lightning team for Game 2, and a confident Blue Jackets group. The latter prevailed. They dominated. They rose to the occasion, scoring the goals they needed to strike fear in the home crowd and cast doubt in the opposition. They got the bounces they never get. Steven Stamkos, in Game 2, missing off the cross bar or having shots blocked by Dean Kukan and off teammate Brayden Point, and also David Savard standing in front.
There might be something to what Jon Cooper mentioned following Game 2. That his team really hasn’t faced adversity all season.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper: "Have we faced a ton of adversity this year? We haven’t. ... This is the five-alarm fire." #CBJ— Adam Jardy (@AdamJardy) April 13, 2019
Sometimes it just feels cliché to say, but we’re seeing living proof of it play out in this series.
The Blue Jackets faced a ton of it, just in March alone. The locker room situation, all of which John Tortorella has talked about all season. Now the test is Game 3 at home on Sunday. Every time this team has had a chance to blow the lid off the barn amid high expectations, there’s been a letdown. Last year’s history is in mind, but it shouldn’t scare anyone. They played two tough overtime games, coming out victoriously against the Capitals and their backup goalie in Philipp Grubauer. The Lightning have been thoroughly outplayed for the last five periods. They don’t have a Braden Holtby to turn to.
Columbus just has to play their best home game of the season when it matters. Tampa Bay is on their first two-game losing streak in two months. They haven’t lost three-straight games all season. Buckle up, Game 3 will be here soon!