The Columbus Blues Jackets were final team to make it to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they are first team to advance to the second round of the playoffs. The Blue Jackets swept the Presidents Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.
NHL Metro Division Notebook: Columbus Sweeps Tampa Bay
Columbus made a lot of history with their win over Tampa Bay. First, the Columbus Blue Jackets recorded the franchise’s first playoff series win. Second, the Blue Jackets won more than two games in the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Third, the Lightning are the first Presidents Trophy winning team to be swept in the first round of the playoffs.
Coming into the playoff the Tampa Bay Lightning were everyone’s favorite to win the Stanley Cup. The Lightning were the best team all season long. Tampa Bay wrapped up the Presidents Trophy around February. Even though the Lightning were not playing meaningful games, they were finding ways to win hockey games especially when they were trailing. Clearly the Lightning were the best all around team coming into the playoffs.
On the other hand, the Columbus Blue Jackets were fighting for their playoff lives in the final two weeks of the regular season. As a matter of fact, at one point the Blue Jackets appeared to be on the verge of missing the playoffs. Columbus went all in at the trade deadline. Instead of trading Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, the team used them as own rentals. Columbus would add Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, and Adam McQuaid. While things did not click right away, Columbus started to come together as a team when it mattered most.
At the start of the playoffs, things did not look good for the Columbus Blue Jackets as Tampa Bay raced out to a 3-0 lead in Game 1. From that moment on, the Blue Jackets were the better team in the series. In fact, the Blue Jackets outscored 19-5 in the final 11 periods. That is just an incredible stat considering how dominating the Lightning offense has been all season.
Head coach John Tortorella did not waiver from his game plan. He trusted his team and especially his goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Tortorella could have pulled Bobrovsky after period 1, but he stuck with him and told his team to believe in themselves. That is exactly what they did. Bobrovsky never wavered either. He stood tall for the Blue Jackets especially when Tampa Bay was making their push late in games. The players bought into the system and Columbus is on to the second round.
Credit the entire Blue Jackets team for sticking together and playing a great team game. As the old saying goes, “hard work beats talent, when talent fails to work hard.” You could clearly see the Blue Jackets were out working the Lightning by playing physical. Led by Seth Jones the Columbus defense shut down the best players of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
All the acquisitions the Blue Jackets made at the deadline paid heavy dividends. Matt Duchene finished the series with seven points (three goals and four assists). Not to mention Artemi Panarin putting up five points (two goals and three assists). Cam Atkinson had a nice first round as well, but two stands for Columbus were Pierre-Luc Dubois and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Both players played big for Columbus especially in the big moments of the series.
While Tampa Bay has to ponder where the offense went. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point combined two goals and three assists. That is not good enough to win a series considering how good those players were in the regular season. Even though Tampa Bay played their best game of the series in Game 4, the effort was not good enough throughout the rest of the games.
Also Tampa Bay was not 100 percent when the series started as star defenseman Victor Hedman was playing hurt. In fact, Hedman missed the final two games of the series. That was a big blow to a team that had one of the best defenses all season long.
It appeared at times, the Lightning were disinterested and did not show the fight needed to win in the playoffs. Going forward the Lightning will have to wonder what could have been. The Presidents Trophy curse is real as no Eastern Conference team since the 1994 New York Rangers have won the Stanley Cup.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are the new Washington Capitals. Washington had to go through so much playoff heart break before winning the Stanley Cup last season. Tampa Bay was not playing playoff hockey the last two months of the season, while Columbus did. That was the difference in this series.
Columbus will take on the winner of the Boston and Toronto series. Hopefully the days off does not slow down the momentum of the Columbus Blue Jackets.