Welcome to the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Columbus Blue Jackets! After an up and down season that saw the team struggle, add two huge names at the trade deadline in Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, keep Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, and then falter through much of March before clinching the playoffs after game 81.
However hard they made it on themselves, they're now here. For their efforts, the Jackets have earned a date with the President’s Trophy winners, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Let’s take a look at the forward matchups between the two teams in advance of Game One on Wednesday night.
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Tyler Johnson
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Steven Stamkos registered the second most points for the Lightning in the regular season in addition to leading the team in goals as he notched 45 goals and 53 points as the number one center for the Bolts.
Columbus’ top line was effective for two games in the playoffs last season before the Washington Capitals shut down Artemi Panarin and, effectively, the rest of the line. For the Blue Jackets to have a chance to take down the best team in the league, the first line will have to be at their very best in this series.
Yanni Gourde - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Ryan Dzingel - Matt Duchene - Josh Anderson
Well, this is the marquee matchup - the Columbus Blue Jackets’ two biggest deadline day acquisitions against the Hart Trophy favorite and another nearly 100 point player in Brayden Point.
For the Blue Jackets to have a chance to beat the Lightning, the second line will have to rise to the occasion and shut down two of the best players in the NHL. Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel have not scored at a high clip since the trade deadline, but have been effective players. There is no better time than now to take the next step and become the most dangerous second line the Blue Jackets have ever had.
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Mathieu Joseph
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Oliver Bjorkstrand has been on a tear over the last two weeks of the season, scoring goals of his own as well as setting up linemates. Boone Jenner has played well since his shift to center earlier in the season, and Nick Foligno has played admirably in his return to the team after his recent familial scares.
This line could be the line that pushes the Blue Jackets over the top if the series is competitive.
Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
Alexandre Texier - Riley Nash - Brandon Dubinsky
Pro: Alexandre Texier deserves his spot, scoring a goal and looking like he absolutely belongs at the NHL level.
Con: The other two players on the line have had extremely subpar seasons and might not have the speed to keep up in this series.
I would look for this line to get extremely limited, extremely sheltered minutes in the playoffs to spell the other three lines. Torts shortens the bench even more in the playoffs (for example, in last season’s game two victory, Sonny Milano played five shifts for 3:12 in an overtime victory), so do not expect to see the fourth line for more than ten minutes per night.
Star Player Comparison
The Art Ross winner. The presumptive Hart Trophy winner. Nikita Kucherov has been the best player in the NHL this season, leading the Tampa Bay Lightning to the best record in the NHL as he amassed 41 goal, 87 points, and a league leading 128 (!) points. Kucherov broke Joe Thorton’s record for most points in a single regular season in the lockout era, and he broke the record for most points in a single season by a Russian player in NHL history. Kucherov is the best player on the league’s best team.
The Columbus Blue Jackets’ answer to Nikita Kucherov, Panarin broke his own team records for points and assists in a season over the course of the campaign as he put up 28 goals and 59 assists for a total of 87 points. Panarin, a pending free agent, has been the Blue Jackets’ best offensive player this season and enters the playoffs on a hot streak, with 1-7-8 in the five games leading into the postseason.
The 21 year old played all 82 games for the Lightning this season and excelled, registering 19 goals and 20 assists in 14:51 per night. Cirelli also scored five shorthanded goals for the Lightning. Cirelli does not play on the power play for the Lightning, but does play on the penalty kill and will be a threat to score should the Jackets commit turnovers with the man advantage.
As noted before, Bjorkstrand is coming into the playoffs hot. Bjorkstrand has 18 goals since the turn of the calendar and put together a six game goal scoring toward the end of the season before posting 1-2-3 in the season finale. Bjorkstrand has become a valuable offensive contributor for the team and must continue his recent run of form for the Blue Jackets to have a chance against the Lightning.
Tomorrow, we will preview the defensive matchups as we get ready for game one on Wednesday night!