The Columbus Blue Jackets returned to the ice Thursday night seeking to build momentum from Tuesday’s win and sweep their two game set against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Jackets might have been outshot on Tuesday, but timely goal scoring and outstanding play from Elvis Merzlikins in net brought the win home.
Following that performance, head coach John Tortorella made just one lineup change, inserting Riley Nash for Kevin Stenlund.
For now, only #CBJ lineup change is Riley Nash in for Kevin Stenlund. Elvis Merzlikins starts again in net. Oliver Bjorkstrand expected to be able to play after missing practice yesterday with illness.— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) April 1, 2021
Stenlund struggled in his last game out, but Riley Nash hadn’t exactly lit things up, sporting a 25% xG% in his last eight games. Torts was likely looking for defensive stability, however, leading to the change.
Elvis Merzlikins got the start in net opposite Andrei Vasilevskiy. Here’s what happened.
Ryan McDonagh made his return for the Lightning, bolstering the Cup winners’ lineup.
The game started quickly for the visiting Blue Jackets, who had eight of the first ten shots on goal. On a two on one rush just four minutes into the game, Boone Jenner had a shot go just wide of Vasilevskiy. The Blue Jackets continued to control play through the first ten minutes and, even as the Lightning began to find a foothold, managed to continue to keep the home team pinned into their zone. David Savard had a strong start to the game, looking active in the defensive zone.
A brisk first period with few whistles saw the teams cross the 1 minute mark with 13 combined shots on goal. With 6:01 remaining in the first, the Lightning earned the first power play of the game as Alexandre Texier was called for holding. Boone Jenner was denied on a shorthanded attempt and, somehow, Eric Robinson jumped onto the ice and took part in the backcheck and was called for too many men on the ice, giving the Lightning 1:02 of a 5 on 3 advantage. The Lightning took advantage, and quickly - you cannot give that team a two man advantage on a dumb penalty - you will get punished.
Brayden Point scored on a short side tight angle shot that beat Elvis at the left post.
Tampa goal (0-1): Point from Stamkos and Hedman, 15:45
Tampa still had 1:12 of power play time remaining after the Point goal. Columbus managed to kill it off, though, limiting the damage. Late in the period, Tyler Johnson and Luke Schenn both had chances to score and double the advantage, but Elvis was equal to the danger.
After 20 minutes, Tampa led 1-0 on the scoreboard and 15-11 in shots. Columbus played well, but they can’t afford to take stupid penalties. It was a solid start, all things considered, and something to build on for the coming 40 minutes. At intermission, we got a good look at the review from Foligno’s shorthanded chance and Vasilevskiy kept it out by millimeters.
A strong shift from the Lightning saw Merzlikins turn aside two shots from Yanni Gourde. After a few minutes of strong chances by the Lightning, Merzlikins gloved and held a shot from Alex Killorn to get a whistle. With 2:52 gone, the Blue Jackets notched their first attempt as Zach Werenski’s shot went high and wide. At 3:35, Nick Foligno was boxed two minutes for roughing and Matthew Joseph was boxed for two minutes for diving - unsportsmanlike conduct. Cam Atkinson had a chance in transition but Vasilevskiy managed to get a piece of the puck and turn it aside as neither team scored with more wide open ice. Tampa began to really flex their skill early in the second, utterly dominating zone pressure through the first seven minutes.
Tampa, as Jody Shelley noted, came in with a game plan - cycle the puck high, fire the puck on net, and look for tips and rebounds. Elvis, save the one 5 on 3 shot, was thus far equal to the task. A long shift, led by cycling from Laine who was clearly a man looking to use his body and skill, saw a rebound get left in front that Zach Werenski was able to capitalize on and put in the net to equalize the game.
Columbus goal (1-1): Werenski from Robinson and Domi, 9:04
A strong shift from Columbus led to Andrei Vasilevskiy being forced to make a save with his behind, denying Seth Jones the go-ahead goal. Seconds later, Cal Foote sacrificed the body to deny Patrik Laine.
After trading chances through the middle part of the period, Boone Jenner was robbed on a power play by Victor Hedman on the goal line - just an absurd play by the Lightning defenseman, Jenner was sure to score. After Hedman’s save, Columbus did not manage to find the back of the net, their cellar dwelling power play failing to generate another scoring chance. Liam Foudy went to the box late in the period for tripping, a little over eager pursuing the puck with 1:26 remaining. Stamkos saw a shot hit the post and Point hit the post, but the period ended with a tie game. Shots favored Columbus 26-22.
Columbus opened the period by seeing out the rest of the Tampa power play. Seconds later, David Savard was denied after toe-dragging his way through the Tampa defense. A couple odd man rushes each way led to Steven Stamkos getting behind the Columbus defense, but Merzlikins was equal to it (though it took him a moment to recover from the low shot, IYKYK).
End to end chances through the middle part of the period, but neither team was able to find the go-ahead goal as we approached ten minutes to go. After some end to end chances, Columbus took the puck on a rush up the ice Eric Robinson got behind the defense and finally, after a season of missed chances, buried a chance as he crashed in on the goaltender, Credit to Robinson, he’s earned that this season.
Columbus goal (2-1): Robinson from Domi and Werenski, 10:54
After a strong Tampa push following Columbus taking the lead, Tampa managed to equalize the game. Ross Colton beat Merzlikins far side to score from the left wing with 5:12 remaining.
Tampa goal (2-2): Colton from Maroon and Joseph, 14:49
Welp. Tampa came strong following the goal and, on the rush, Brayden Point saw his shot deflect off Savard’s stick while Savard was on his stomach and into the net past Merzlikins with 4:06 remaining.
Tampa goal (2-3): Point from Palat and Johnson, 15:54
A strong shift late from Alexandre Texier and Nick Foligno saw several chances before Michael Lehtonen was denied and the puck held by Vasilevskiy. Tortorella pulled Merzlikins for an extra skater with 2:47 remaining.
A scramble in front of the net saw Vasilevskiy scramble but a gaping net remained unfilled. Columbus pushed, but no equalizer came. The game finished in regulation.
Columbus Blue Jackets 2 Tampa Bay Lightning 3
The Bally’s Sports Ohio or whatever we’re calling it now scorebug sucks. I don’t need something across the lower 20% of the screen. Give me goals and shots in the upper left hand corner and be done with it. No one needed a change.
Brayden Point has 10-9-19 in 13 career regular season games against Columbus. Seems good.
This team is already bad at killing penalties - they can’t afford to take bad ones against one of the most lethal power plays in the league.
Patrik Laine played well tonight. He was engaged, using his size, speed, and shot to generate chances for himself and linemates. If he can play this way consistently, they’ll be happy. He was engaged, using his body, threading passes, looking for shooting lanes, and trying to be involved. There’s nothing to fault him for tonight.
The Jackets threw away a lead late, but let’s be real - where was this last weekend? If the Jackets had played with this energy against Detroit, the team is right in the thick of the playoff picture. Instead, it took two superhuman efforts against the division leaders to even feel like this team has something resembling life. Zach Werenski took the loss hard, saying “that’s a game we have to win,” but like - but for better play last weekend, it’s not. This team has long had a problem taking care of business on paper, and it bit them tonight.
Florida and Tampa for four games coming up - no rest for the weary. Florida has won four straight, Alex Wennberg has eight goals this year. If the team is trying to convince Jarmo not to sell at the deadline, this is their chance.
The Columbus Blue Jackets continue their snowbird road trip this weekend, traveling across the state to take on the Florida Panthers for a back to back. The first game is scheduled for Saturday at 7:00 PM EST.