Wow, - it has been quite a day.
This morning, I previewed this game tonight - and tried as I might, I couldn’t muster much optimism entering Tampa on a four-game losing streak, going up against the No. 1 team in the division/league. Who could blame me? The Columbus Blue Jackets put on a pathetic performance against the Detroit Red Wings just a few days ago.
But the crew that was present in Detroit didn’t look like the same crew that showed up to Amalie Arena tonight. The team that showed up tonight looked like a team that is prepared to claw its way into the bottom slot of playoff contention, no matter how ugly it gets.
Honestly, it was kind of the most perfect on-brand CBJ game I’ve watched all season. Boring first period, started to escalate in the second to the point where I developed a tentative hopefulness going into the third period - the kind of hope that puts a knot in my stomach because I’ve watched this team be ahead before and we all know that doesn’t guarantee a win, especially when it comes down to the all-important third period.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
Okay, so let’s get this out of the way - Elvis Merzlikins was the MVP of the game. With 37 saves, he hardly missed a beat. He played cool, calm and collected; he was not erratic or unsure of himself in the slightest.
Other than Elvis looking sharp, not much happened in the first - it was high tempo, with the Tampa Bay Lightning outshooting us nearly two to one, but the Jackets held strong going into the second period.
This is where things start to get juicy! The Jackets killed a penalty perpetrated by Gavrikov, and shortly thereafter Mikko Lehtonen unintentionally slid into Viktor Hedman, who awkwardly went down against the boards and was assisted off the ice into the locker room. This is the escalation I was talking about!
It should be said - so I guess I’ll say it - that Curtis McElhinney was also on top of his game tonight. He stopped a few decent attempts by the CBJ, but he was unable to stop a gorgeous, Midas-touch Bjorkstrand goal, which he delicately tipped off from a Werenski rocket shot. Magnifique!
But wait, the truly miraculeaux moment had yet to happen - a goal by David Savard. His first in exactly two years to the day could not have come at a better time; the team capitalized on their one-goal momentum when this unlikely hero stepped up to double it.
Hedman came back to the ice, so that was good news - about the only good news the Lightning had going for them in the second period, which ended 2-0 CBJ.
Well, it wouldn’t be a Blue Jackets game if they didn’t make us nervous, right? Mathieu Joseph scored off a Gavrikov deflection early on in the third, bringing us all into nail-biting territory. But the Jackets held strong, and even had several close calls on another goal, including a near-miss from Patrik Laine.
The Bolts applied equivalent pressure, pulling McElhinney with two minutes to go. Fortunately, Cam Atkinson was quick with the empty-netter, pulling the Jackets up to 3-1 for the final.
Wow! What a breath of fresh air after a long couple weeks. There’s obviously work to be done, and we’ve got a long weekend ahead of us in Florida, but it’s a huge weight off the shoulders to see the Blue Jackets not only exist, but excel.
The Jackets rematch the Lightning same time, same place on Thursday, April 1 at 7 P.M. EST.