3 Keys: Blue Jackets vs. Lightning, Game 1 of Eastern First Round


No. 7 Blue Jackets vs. No. 2 Lightning


The Tampa Bay Lightning may be without defenseman Victor Hedman for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Tuesday.

Hedman stumbled in open ice and left at 9:28 of the first period in a 4-1 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in the round-robin portion of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Saturday in Toronto, the East hub city.

Tampa Bay was already without captain Steven Stamkos, who missed all three of its round-robin games with a lower-body injury sustained before training camp began July 13. The forward’s status for the start of the first round is also uncertain.

“Victor Hedman’s status will be determined tomorrow,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Monday. “Other than that, status quo.”

Columbus defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-0 in Game 5 on Sunday to win their best-of-5 qualifier series and advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Blue Jackets swept the Lightning in the best-of-7 first round last season.

“You certainly look at their lines and their (defense) pairs, but we can’t control our injuries, they can’t control their injuries,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said. “I’m not too concerned about what’s going on over there in Tampa. In such a quick turnaround for us, we’re just trying to get ready for our team to play.”

Here are 3 keys to Game 1:


1. Lightning need to get up to speed

The Blue Jackets won a playoff series for the first time in their history last year with their shocking sweep of the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Lightning. Fresh from their second postseason series win, they are in full playoff mode.

Tampa Bay went 2-1-0 in the round-robin and will look to match the intensity of Columbus. Forward Pat Maroon brings the experience of winning the Stanley Cup with his hometown St. Louis Blues last season to the Lightning locker room.

“Hopefully my voice carries in the room and just trying to find ways to find an identity for our team, playing the right way every night,” Maroon said. “Just playing simple, playing hard, competing and being mentally strong going forward. You know each game is going to be tough, you’re not going to win a series in Game 1. It’s how you’re going to respond each game and mentally and physically you’ve got to be engaged every single night.”


2. Sticking to defense

Columbus shut down Toronto, allowing 10 goals in five games, with goalie Joonas Korpisalo getting a shutout in Games 1 and 5.

The Blue Jackets boast one of the top defense pairs in the NHL, Zach Werenski and Seth Jones. Facing a team that excels on offense for the second straight series — the Lightning led the NHL in the regular season with an average of 3.47 goals per game, and the Maple Leafs were third at 3.39 — might actually help them in their short turnaround.

“Well, I think they’ve both got some really skilled players and obviously two very offensive teams,” defenseman Ryan Murray said. “So I think that we really stressed our defensive game during that series against Toronto, and I think we’re going to be doing the same against Tampa.”


3. Blue Jackets look for respect

Columbus is fueled by a perceived lack of recognition for their accomplishments, notably four straight playoff appearances. They will be looking to prove that their win against Tampa Bay in the first round last year was not a fluke and that their win against Toronto in the Qualifiers was not an upset.

“I think we’ve proven over the years that we’ve become a good team,” captain Nick Foligno said. “And obviously our history with playing them last year, I’m sure they’re looking to make it a series, and we’re excited about the opportunity.


Blue Jackets projected lineup

Alexandre TexierPierre-Luc DuboisCam Atkinson

Gustav NyquistBoone Jenner — Nick Foligno

Liam FoudyRiley NashOliver Bjorkstrand

Eric RobinsonAlexander WennbergNathan Gerbe

Zach Werenski — Seth Jones

Vladislav GavrikovDavid Savard

Ryan Murray — Dean Kukan

Joonas Korpisalo

Matiss Kivlenieks

Scratched: Emil Bemstrom, Gabriel Carlsson, Adam Clendening, Stefan Matteau, Markus Nutivaara, Devin Shore, Kevin Stenlund, Scott Harrington

Unfit to play: Elvis Merzlikins, Josh Anderson, Brandon Dubinsky


Lightning projected lineup

Ondrej PalatBrayden PointNikita Kucherov

Alex KillornAnthony CirelliTyler Johnson

Barclay GoodrowYanni GourdeBlake Coleman

Pat Maroon — Mitchell StephensCedric Paquette

Victor Hedman — Zach Bogosian

Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak

Mikhail SergachevKevin Shattenkirk

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Mathieu Joseph, Carter Verhaeghe, Alexander Volkov, Braydon Coburn, Jan Rutta, Luke Schenn, Scott Wedgewood

Unfit to play: Steven Stamkos


Status report

Tortorella said he did not know how long Merzlikins would be unavailable to play.

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