In 1962, a 22 year old from Columbus named Jack Nicklaus won his first professional tournament by defeating the best golfer in the world, Arnold Palmer, by three strokes in an 18 hole playoff in the US Open.
In 1990, a 30 year old from Columbus named James “Buster” Douglas stunned the world by knocking out the previously undefeated Mike Tyson for the undisputed heavyweight boxing title.
In 2019, an 18 season old professional hockey team from Columbus slayed two decades of demons to win their first playoff series, and did so by sweeping the President’s Trophy winner, a Tampa Bay Lightning team that tied an NHL record with 62 wins. No President’s Trophy winner had ever been swept in the first round before. Only three other ever got swept in the postseason, and each time that came at the hands of the eventual champion:
The @BlueJacketsNHL are the fourth team in NHL history to sweep the regular season's No. 1 seed in a best-of-seven series.— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 17, 2019
The other three teams to do so won the #StanleyCup. #NHLStats pic.twitter.com/Refy1F2hOV
Here’s how it happened:
Before the game, I knew it was critical that the Blue Jackets get off to a good start. Despite their struggles, this Tampa team was too talented to be given any momentum. Fortunately the Jackets delivered. In the first minute of play, Oliver BJORKSTRAND drew a slashing penalty from Ryan McDonagh. Late in the power play, the second unit came through. Rookie Alexandre Texier - playing in just his sixth NHL game, remember - corralled a rebound off the boards from a shot that missed wide. He passed to Seth Jones at the point, who then passed back to the young Frenchman. The boy who has been dubbed “Martel” in the comments delivered the hammer with a hard shot from the circle.
Less than a minute and a half later, the home team struck again. Adam Clendening - filling in admirably due to a rash of injuries in the defensive corps - made a very nice pass across the zone to BJORKSTRAND. The Maestro’s shot missed wide, but caromed off the boards behind the net to Pierre-Luc Dubois on the opposite side of the crease. Luc tapped it in, giving the Jackets a 2-0 lead and sending the packed house into a frenzy.
By the way, Texier and Dubois thus became the 11th and 12th different CBJ skaters to score a goal in this series.
The euphoria was short-lived, as the Lightning served a reminder that they would not go quietly. After being shut down for the entire series, Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos collected their first points. It began with Anthony Cirelli laying a big hit on Seth Jones to force a turnover. Kucherov got the puck to Stamkos, who dangled his way towards the net. Zach Werenski pulled a Savard Special and hit the ice to block it, and like any decent player should do, Stamkos easily worked around that and got off a clean shot.
The Jackets appeared to extend their lead on a Cam Atkinson power play goal, but the call was challenged by Jon Cooper and was correctly overturned on replay. A pass to Zach Werenski had just barely passed over the blue line before he could get his stick on it.
A Cam Atkinson power play goal was wiped out because a micron of white ice made the play offside: pic.twitter.com/OZAB8898kZ— The Second Round Cannon (@cbjcannon) April 16, 2019
The power play continued and the Jackets (after a brief shorthanded threat) did well to maintain possession and get multiple scoring chances. Even after the power play expired, the possession continued for another minute as fresh players cycled in. I hoped that this would wear out Tampa and the Jackets could take advantage, but after this sequence the ice began to tilt in the Lightning’s favor. They ended the period with more shot attempts (17-11) but the Jackets had 5 high danger shot attempts to their 2.
The Jackets got that third goal back six and a half minutes into the second period off the stick of Seth Jones. A Cam Atkinson breakaway attempt missed, but Matt Duchene won the battle for it behind the goal line. The puck then cycled around back to Atkinson, over to Jones for the shot.
The Lightning would not go gentle into that good night. Alex Killorn - who was a gametime decision - had a great sequence to set up their second goal, carrying the puck into the zone and throwing his body around to keep it there. A Braydon Coburn snipe was tipped in at the doorstep by Cedric Paquette.
Late in the period, Zach Werenski cross-checked Nikita Kucherov (some thought it was borderline, but I thought it was an obvious call) and the Lightning got their first power play opportunity since Game 2. The Jackets almost got the back-breaker from Josh Anderson, but his shorthanded breakaway attempt was thwarted when he lost his footing. On the ensuing rush, Tampa’s Big 3 finally showed up when they were needed most. Kucherov carried the puck into the zone with speed. He passed to Stamkos on the left wall, who then centered it back to Brayden Point. Point scored, and the game was tied.
This was the moment I had feared. The Jackets had a chance to keep a boot on the enemy’s throat, and they let up. With this momentum, Tampa could take the lead. If they won just this game, then it could give them the spark they would need to win three more and salvage the series.
Thankfully the Jackets wasted no time in responding. On the very next possession, BJORKSTRAND drew another penalty, this time behind his own net. The Jackets attacked with an extra skater on the delayed penalty. Artemi Panarin passed from the point to Dubois on the right side, who fired a tight angle shot at the crease. It deflected off Scott Harrington camped in front of Andrei Vasilevskiy, and the rebound was tipped into a wide open net by an uncovered BJORKSTRAND.
That was the Great Dane’s second goal of the series, with each of them serving as game winners.
As in Game 3, the Lightning took over the third period in a desperate attempt to erase the deficit. They recorded 22 shot attempts to just 7 for the Jackets. 7 of the Lightning’s shot attempts were of the high danger variety, but Sergei Bobrovsky was HUGE. We can officially put the “Playoff Bob” narrative to rest.
With two minutes remaining, Vasilevskiy was pulled and the Jackets took advantage. Anderson took off on a breakaway, got stopped, but Panarin came in behind to score the goal and secure the victory.
But that’s not all! Texier and Duchene each added empty net goals of their own to run up the final score to 7-3.
Former Cannon writer Andy Newman sent along this video he took from the stands of the end of the game. What great atmosphere!
Games 5-7 are not necessary.
Texier ended the series with two goals, and had scored one goal in his two regular season appearances. The Lightning trio of Stamkos, Point, and Kucherov accumulated 127 goals in the regular season and could only match the rookie with two of their own (combined). That trailed the team-leading three goals from Duchene, who was a force on both ends of the ice in all four games. The price to acquire him was steep, but so far he appears to be well worth the cost.
12 Blue Jackets scored goals in this series. Just 9 Lightning skaters scored a POINT. Duchene, Texier, Jones, BJORKSTRAND, and Panarin all had multiple goals. Only rookie defenseman Erik Cernak with three and J.T. Miller and Mikhail Sergachev with two each had multiple points on the Tampa roster.
Since being embarrassed by the Oilers, #CBJ have won 11 of 12, outscoring opponents 54-22.— William Chase (@WillChase_) April 17, 2019
This win means so much for those of us in the fanbase who have been following the team from the beginning. Imagine how much harder it has been for those who have worked in the organization for all of that time. In the postgame show, Fox Sports Ohio analyst Bill Davidge fought back tears when asked to describe the night:
Billy has covered the team from the inaugural season, and is retiring at the end of this season. How perfect to end it with this series? (He’s not completely done, as FSO will still air postgame coverage of the subsequent rounds)
President of Hockey Operations John Davidson was also brought to tears. JD was brought in at a low point in franchise history, and has overseen a complete rebuild of the roster.
Think about Cam Atkinson and David Savard, who were rookies in that abysmal 2011-12 season. They are now playing on a significantly more successful team and each has been a critical part of that success this season.
Think about Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky, and Sergei Bobrovsky, who were acquired in that summer seven years ago as part of that major rebuild. They were instrumental in changing the mindset of the locker room, and they established a style of play that would define this team. The physical, tenacious style of play that you think about with Fligs and Dubi was demonstrated by all skaters this series and it stymied an explosive, record-setting Lightning offense.
Then there’s Bob. The team was built from the back forward, around this stud goaltender. He got more help this series than he ever has before, thanks to the defense limiting the number of high danger chances he faced. But when he had to step up (especially late in Games 1, 3, and 4), he did. In the 12 periods of this series, Tampa failed to score in 7 of them.
We know that Bob is likely to leave in free agency this summer, and in the early part of the season it appeared that he had already checked out mentally. Against this same Lightning team, he left the bench completely after being pulled in a January game. But since then, he has been nothing short of stellar, and when you watch his emotion after the playoff clinching win over New York, or any of the wins this series, you can see how much these accomplishments still mean to him. Whatever happens this summer, he’s all-in now.
The whole team is all-in, finally rewarding the gamble that GM Jarmo Kekalainen took at the trade deadline. He kept Panarin and Bobrovsky, and they’ve dominated down the stretch. Duchene and Ryan Dzingel took some time to get adjusted, but since then have played well and made the forward lines so much deeper. Dzingel didn’t record a point, but he was part of a line with Duchene and Atkinson that was so good on both ends of the ice.
We rest! Because I’m writing this at 1:30 a.m. and I’m tired. The Blue Jackets will face either the Boston Bruins or Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round. Game 4 of that series is tonight, with the Leaves holding a 2-1 series lead. We will have more coverage of that later today, with an open thread to follow the remaining games there.
Later in the week we will do more to wrap up this series, and preview the next series once we know the opponent. We will have a fresh podcast episode on Thursday morning recapping this series and previewing the Cleveland Monsters’ own upcoming playoff match-up.
In the meantime, if you have not already (and many of you have, thank you!) commemorate this victory with a Torts quote t-shirt. He called it at the start of the series:
It’s a [expletive] mindset of [expletive] believing. It’s amazing what can [expletive] happen. So you stand in there, and you don’t take a [expletive] backward step, not for a [expletive] second.
”Stand face to face with them and take it right [expletive] to them. There is no one taking a [expletive] backward step here.”