Lightning vs. Blue Jackets playoff preview

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No. 2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. No. 7 Columbus Blue Jackets

Lightning: 2-1-0 in round-robin; 43-21-6, .657 points percentage in regular season

Blue Jackets: 3-2 to win qualifier series against Toronto Maple Leafs; 33-22-15, .579 points percentage in regular season

Season series: TBL 1-0-0; CBJ 0-1-0

Game 1 is Tuesday (3 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVAS).

A current of history runs through this series between the Lightning and the Blue Jackets.

The upset engineered by Columbus, which swept Tampa Bay in their best-of-7 Eastern Conference First Round series last season, is at the forefront with the two playing again. 

The Lightning dominated throughout the 2018-19 regular season and won the Presidents’ Trophy, finishing 21 points ahead of the Boston Bruins in the East. The Blue Jackets qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs on the final day of the regular season and finished 30 points behind the Lightning.

This season, the Lightning finished second in the East and earned the No. 2 seed for the playoffs in the round-robin. The Blue Jackets were the No. 9 seed and defeated the No. 8-seed Toronto Maple Leafs in five games, including a 3-0 win in Game 5, to advance and face the Lightning again.

As was the case last season, the Lightning could be shorthanded. 

Defenseman Victor Hedman, who missed the final two games against Columbus in the series last season, was injured in the final round-robin game, against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. The status of the Norris Trophy finalist will be decided Tuesday. Forward Steven Stamkos and defenseman Jan Rutta are also sidelined.

The Lightning insist they are not looking for revenge. 

“What happened last year happened last year,” coach Jon Cooper said. “That’s in the history books forever. Now it’s time to write your own history, and that’s what we intend to do with this team. We don’t know what’s going to happen. But we said right from the beginning of the season, if you want to write your own history, you have to make the playoffs and we did that.” 

The Blue Jackets also are not looking back on what happened last season. 

“Last year is last year and this is a new year, and we feel really good as a team,” goalie Joonas Korpisalo said. “We’re really looking forward to facing them again. It was a great way to end this series, and now we’re just looking forward.” 

 

Game breakers 

Lightning: Brayden Point scored three points (one goal, two assists) in the round-robin skating on a line with Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov. The connection and chemistry between Point and Kucherov is notable and could result in the kind of offensive show that wins games and playoff series. The center, in his fourth NHL season, scored 64 points (25 goals, 39 assists) in 66 games. 

Blue Jackets: Pierre-Luc Dubois led Columbus in scoring during the regular season with 49 points (18 goals, 31 assists) in 70 games, and had four points (three goals, one assist) in five games in the qualifiers. The center scored three goals, the third in overtime, to help the Blue Jackets rally from three goals down to win Game 3 against the Maple Leafs. 

 

Goaltending 

Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy, who won the Vezina Trophy last season as the League’s best goalie and is a finalist this season, is looking to make up for a spotty performance against Columbus in the playoffs last season. He had a 3.82 goals-against and .856 save percentage in the four-game sweep, but was 2-1-0 with a .921 save percentage and 2.28 goals-against average in the round-robin after finishing 35-14-3 with a 2.56 GAA and .917 save percentage during the regular season.  

Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets used Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins against the Maple Leafs, and each was effective. Korpisalo was 2-1 with a 1.45 goals-against average, a .956 save percentage and two shutouts. Merzlikins was 1-1 with a 1.96 GAA and a .946 save percentage before being deemed unfit to play in Game 5. Merzlikins is not available for Game 1 against Tampa Bay.

 

Numbers to know

Lightning: When Tyler Johnson scored the go-ahead goal in the Lightning’s 3-2 win against the Boston Bruins in the round-robin win on Aug. 5, it was his eighth career game-winner in the postseason. That put him in a tie with Martin St. Louis for the most in Lightning history.

Blue Jackets: Columbus was tied with the Arizona Coyotes for the third-fewest goals against per game during the regular season at 2.61, while Tampa Bay led the NHL in average goals per game at 3.47. Tampa Bay defeated Columbus 2-1 in overtime on Feb. 10 in their one game during the regular season.

 

X-factors 

Lightning: Hedman. The defenseman’s status will be decided Tuesday before Game 1. The absence of Hedman could be more painful because his usual defense partner, Rutta, is unfit to play. The swing between having Hedman, who had 55 points this season (11 goals, 44 assists) in the lineup or out is immense.

Blue Jackets: Liam Foudy played two regular-season games for the Blue Jackets but earned coach John Tortorella’s trust during training camp and played in each of the five games against the Maple Leafs, scoring in Game 5 and averaging 15:28 of ice time per game. The 20-year old looked comfortable and his speed, which could be an asset against the Lightning, was noticeable. Foudy had 68 points (28 goals, 40 assists) in 45 games with London of the Ontario Hockey League this season.

 

They said it

“I think this team’s been on a lot of runs here. A lot of faces in there know what it takes to get there. They’ve been stopped — but me, hopefully my voice carries in the room and helps find an identity for our team. Playing the right way, playing hard, competing, keeping things simple and being mentally strong. Each game is going to be tough. You are not going to win a series in Game 1. It’s how you respond.” — Lightning forward Pat Maroon, who was signed as a free agent after winning the Stanley Cup with St. Louis in 2019

“As you keep moving on, the hockey gets, it gets more into I think a grind. We’re playing Tampa, a very good hockey club with a lot of weapons. We’re going to have to get better in a lot of areas, not just defense. We have to make some more plays, we have to have our forecheck get better. As you move along here, teams are beginning to get knocked out and you start playing these other teams, the games are going to get better so we have to join in.” — Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella

Video: Mike Rupp talks about Blue Jackets coach Tortorella

 

Will win if …

Lightning: They can harness the frustration of last season. They were disappointed and mad after the sweep, and it showed this season as they rounded into form and remade their team to be more comfortable in the defense-first, physically demanding world of playoff hockey. They need to make sure they’re ready, that they’ve learned from their mistakes and that they can finish in the postseason. 

Blue Jackets: They maintain their strong defensive play and keep the series low scoring. The Blue Jackets allowed eight goals in their four-game sweep of the Lightning last year and shut out the Maple Leafs in Games 1 and 5 of the Stanley Cup Qualifiers.

 
Lightning projected lineup 

Ondrej Palat — Brayden Point — Nikita Kucherov

Alex KillornAnthony Cirelli — Tyler Johnson

Barclay GoodrowYanni GourdeBlake Coleman

Cedric PaquetteMitchell StephensCarter Verhaeghe

Victor Hedman — Zach Bogosian

Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak

Mikhail SergachevKevin Shattenkirk

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Scratched: Mathieu Joseph, Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn, Scott Wedgewood

Unfit to play: Pat Maroon, Steven Stamkos, Jan Rutta

 

Blue Jackets Projected lineup

Alexandre TexierPierre-Luc DuboisCam Atkinson

Gustav NyquistBoone JennerNick Foligno

Liam Foudy — Riley NashOliver Bjorkstrand

Eric RobinsonAlexander Wennberg

Zach WerenskiSeth Jones

Vladislav GavrikovDavid Savard

Ryan MurrayDean Kukan

Markus Nutivaara

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

NHL.com staff writer Amalie Benjamin and independent correspondent Dave McCarthy contributed to this report 

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