The Lightning struck first. The Jackets weathered the storm and found a way.
The Blue Jackets went to Tampa Bay to face the Lightning in the middle game of their road trip. It was an emotional night in Tampa as former champion and captain Martin St. Louis would see his jersey raised to the rafters. Incidentally, one of the speakers during the ceremony was Columbus’ head coach, John Tortorella. Tampa would be looking to put on a show for their former captain on this night.
5 minutes before puck drop (seriously) it was announced that Joonas Korpisalo would get the start over Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky apparently became ill after the warmup, and so Korpisalo would get the start. 4 different goaltenders in 4 games for Columbus - not exactly ideal.
The first period was spent entirely in the Columbus zone. Tampa Bay’s forwards exploited all kinds of space as the Jackets were poor on defense and could not successfully maintain possession in the offensive zone. It was not “Blue Jackets hockey” at all. The forecheck was nonexistant.
Finally, after so much time in their own zone, the Jackets were made to pay for it. Jonathan Drouin hammered in a pass from the doorstep with 4 minutes to go. There was nothing Korpisalo could do (he was the only thing keeping the team in it, after all), since Alexander Wennberg completely lost Drouin in front of the net and left him all by himself. After 20 minutes, it was 1-0 Tampa, with shots 19-6 favoring the Lightning. It felt, if anything, so much worse.
90 seconds into the second period, Tampa hit their second post of the night and forced an icing from the 4th line, which had been out there for the entire period. It was pretty much the worst start possible for the Jackets. Sam Gagner managed to draw a penalty on Valtteri Filppula, earning the first power play of the night.
The power play didn’t last, however, as Gagner went off for tripping. Gagner had played the entire period up to that point (almost 3 minutes) and had to be exhausted. Tampa would get a minute and change of power play time of their own as a result. The Jackets would kill the penalty though, allowing no shots.
Tampa continued to pressure the Jackets net as the period wore on. David Savard saved a sure goal, dropping in front of Korpisalo. At this point (the 7 minute mark of the second period), the Jackets trailed 21-9 on the shot counter and 10-2 in scoring chances. Just ... there’s nothing to say about how poor the effort was, other than “It looked and felt like it was actually so much worse than that.” Columbus hadn’t put a dangerous chance on Andrei Vasilevskiy all game long.
It took about 30 minutes for Torts to revert to the old lines. Foligno was back with Wennberg, Atkinson and Jenner with Dubinsky, Calvert with Karlsson. Columbus, of course, started shooting the puck consistently and playing well right when that happened. Korpisalo also made a great save at 13:29 on Brian Boyle. The Jackets went on the power play at 13:55 as Matthew Peca went off for hooking. This time, Gagner is rested! Tampa killed the penalty, but Columbus clearly had some momentum.
With 3:20 to go in the period, Josh Anderson tied it on a rebound from a David Savard shot. It’s amazing the difference the return to the regular lines made. The game was tied 1-1 after 40, and Columbus trailed 25-22 on the shot clock. 20 minutes left to decide this one. Could Columbus keep the momentum rolling?
(side note: by this time of night, Washington had demolished Chicago, so Columbus needed at least a point to maintain their “#1 in the league” status)
To open the third period, Korpisalo made a big save on Peca on a half breakaway. Tampa pressed hard, generating the first four shots of the period in under two minutes. Korpisalo stood tall though, keeping the scoreline level.
The Jackets earned a power play at the 4:00 mark as Tyler Johnson would go off. This time, the Jackets would cash in. As Werenski let a shot fly from the point, Nick Foligno would pot the rebound at 4:29. The Jackets, finally, had a lead. Korpisalo had kept them in it, and the Jackets had, somehow, found a way to take the lead.
For the first time since the Edmonton game, they looked like the third period team the players and coaching staff wanted to be. The team was driving possession, preventing chances, and attacking the Tampa net. One couldn’t help but correlate that with a return to the streak lines. That and Korpisalo remaining very strong in net. He looked very calm, confident, and well positioned in the net.
I know I keep harping on the return to the lines but since that happened, the Jackets looked ... fast. It helps to have chemistry and know where guys would be at any given moment. Columbus would head to the power play with 7:49 to go as Tampa was dinged for too many men on the ice. The power play is just a majestic thing of beauty. They may not have scored, but dear lord. The first unit had 90 solid seconds of possession in the Lightning zone and multiple chances, and really, what more can you ask for?
Also, a side note: it’s really refreshing to see the fourth line out there with 5 minutes to go and, unlike in years past, not be terrified that a goal is imminent. Credit the front office for making that happen. A media timeout with 3:54 to go, and the Jackets led 2-1. Could they hang on to grind out the win?
With 3:04 to go, Jack Johnson took a slashing penalty on Nikita Kucherov. Tampa would have a man advantage, and it was only a matter of time until Vasilevskiy would leave the net. He did so with 90 seconds remaining, leaving 6 on 4 for 30 seconds. The Jackets killed the penalty.
With 65 seconds to go, Boone Jenner potted an empty netter on the clear. He broke up a pass and sent it the length of the ice and into the net. The Jackets held on for a 3-1 win. And held on to first place in the league
Columbus Blue Jackets 3 Tampa Bay Lightning 1
Joonas Korpisalo was the first star, and deservedly so. He saved 31 of 32 shots, and kept the Jackets in the game while the skaters found their legs. Korpi said he found out 20 minutes before the game that he would be the starting goalie, and he shined bright in the crease tonight.
Apparently Korpi had to wear Bob’s pants tonight. So that’s hilarious.
Korpi appears, at least at this juncture, to be the backup goalie for the time being. He seems more confident, attacks the puck, and inspires confidence in the guys. I’m glad to see him here and glad to see him pick up where he left off last year.
The Jackets, with the win, hung on to first place in the league, holding off the red hot Capitals.
The first period was bad. Very, very bad. Josh Anderson played a whale of a game and his fight (along with the switch back to the regular lines) seemed to fuel the comeback.
Whenever a big goal is needed, it seems like the power play comes through. What a tool to have in your pocket.
Turnaround now. At the midpoint of the season, the Jackets are 29-8-4 for 62 points and are leading the NHL. Great start, but a LONG way to go.
Back at it in Florida on Saturday night to take on the Panthers. Go Jackets.