After Game 3, the Columbus Blue Jackets have a 3-0 series lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning
Early on, the Tampa Bay Lightning showed their frustrations. They showed aggressiveness and eventually, Lightning forward Alex Killorn took a stupid penalty by hitting Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky after the whistle.
The Blue Jackets couldn’t generate much offense, and when they did, Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy was up to the task. After the penalty was killed, Columbus’ Josh Anderson had a great chance and Vasilevskiy robbed him.
The physicality continued both ways, as Tampa Bay began pressuring the Blue Jackets. Bobrovsky, early on, had trouble handling the puck but was solid and making the saves. It was a very fast and aggressive start, but neither team got much going.
Throughout the first, Columbus had random, short bursts of good chances, and Vasilevskiy did a great job. Like the Calgary/Colorado game Saturday night, where those two teams were polar opposites in the second period, the Lightning acted as the Flames. They were not generating offense, but keeping their opposition on the perimeter and blocking as many shots as possible. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets acted as the Carolina Hurricanes in their game Saturday, sustaining offensive zone possession and throwing as many shots as they can on net. To put it into perspective, Tampa Bay blocked 13 shots, as the Jackets outshot the Lightning 12-3.
Not long after the puck dropped, Tampa Bay established the offense as forward Ondrej Palat had a quality opportunity to open the frame. Columbus had trouble with bouncing pucks, but once the Blue Jackets got it into the offensive zone, they buried it.
After a great save by Vasilevskiy off a point shot through traffic, the puck found Matt Duchene and Vasilevskiy had no chance, and it’s 1-0 Columbus.
The Lightning responded well however, getting back into the offensive zone, and generating solid offensive opportunities. Bobrovsky made a few great saves to keep them at bay. This time, it became Columbus relying on bursts of offense, and not keeping it in the offensive zone. At about the 14-minute mark, Lightning forward Ryan Callahan Then Lightning forward Ryan Callahan blatantly interferes Columbus’ Artemi Panarin. About 45 seconds later, the Lightning touched the puck for the whistle. After a tough minute and a half on the man advantage, Oliver Bjorkstrand blasted one past Vasilevskiy to make it 2-0 Columbus.
Can we please fire Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper now? Okay, let’s hear him out. So coach Cooper, you guys are down 2-0, what’s been going wrong? “We knew that they’d be coming strong early there, but I think we got past that and weathered it fine” Alright, is this guy blind? Is he watching the same damn game as everyone else? Because this has been yet another pathetic effort. Outside of Vasilevskiy, the Lightning have been awful. The few times that Tampa has had good scoring chances, they’ve missed the net.
More of the same early. Tampa Bay cannot move the puck cleanly at all, it’s embarrassing. But then… can it be? Sustained offensive zone time? Shots on net? But still, Bobrovsky kept it out.
Then Columbus brought it back the other way after Tampa Bay played the puck with a high stick and the whistle was blown. Bobrovsky then made a fantastic save on Palat again. But it wasn’t too much later when Palat put home a great chance as Bobrovsky initially made a ridiculous save, but Palat stayed with it and buried it in the back of the net.
At this point, everyone on Tampa has skated with a passion. Palat had been great, and has improved with each minute that ticked down. Bobrovsky made another spectacular save, but the Lightning kept pushing.
Tampa Bay defenceman Jan Rutta was having immense problems keeping the puck in at the blue line, as well as Mikhail Sergachev nearly put the puck in his own net. Soon after, Vasilevskiy shut down a Ryan Dzingel breakaway attempt. It was a huge save, as Vasilevskiy was looking to keep the momentum completely on Tampa Bay’s side.
Another fantastic save is made by Vasilevskiy, as the Lightning’s sloppy play nearly cost them on several occasions. Something I didn’t notice was that Killorn was involved in a collision and he limped off and went down the tunnel and to the locker room.
Now it’s Bobrovsky’s turn again to make key stops, and in the final five minutes, he was forced to track an Erik Cernak shot through traffic, and he gloved it down. (Side note: The Lightning have been awful in faceoffs.) Then Bobrovsky stops a flying Tyler Johnson on a shot in tight. With 2:15 left, Vasilevskiy made another key stop. Less than two minutes left, and Cooper had yet to pull Vasilevskiy for an extra attacker. Eventually, Cooper got Vasilevsliy to the bench but to no avail. Columbus’ Cam Atkinson put it into the empty net, and that would end it. 3-1 Columbus.
My Team Hero
Andrei Vasilevskiy was sharp throughout the entire game, that’s for sure. He wasn’t good in the first two games, but he was very good for the Lightning in this one. He’s probably the only Lightning player who played a full 60 minutes. Erik Cernak wasn’t great, but he was the Lightning’s best defenseman out on the ice. He did a good job transitioning up ice, and was solid in the defensive zone, not giving the puck away too often.
My Team Villain
Jon Cooper was out-coached yet again, and his comments in the second period, where he said the Lightning weathered the early Blue Jackets storm “really well” when they were down 2-0 was just the cherry on top to how delusional this man is. Not to mention, he held an optional practice ahead of a crucial must-win game for his team. Optional skate in the playoffs? Really? Just pathetic.
Nikita Kucherov, for the third straight game, makes this list. Yeah, he didn’t play, I know. But that’s exactly why he’s here. The Lightning did a decent job in the offensive zone in periods 1 and 3, albeit a streaky first period and a last-ditch effort in the third period.
But the Lightning have been in these comeback situations many times throughout their record-breaking regular season, and they looked to Kucherov, among others, to spark their game and get those tough goals. Well, Kucherov was suspended for Game 3 due to a very stupid hit in Game 2, and couldn’t be there for the Lightning when they genuinely needed him most.
Finally, Jan Rutta. The guy was solid for us through the stretch run in March, when Anton Stralman and Dan Girardi went down with injuries. He played well enough that when Girardi came back, he took Braydon Coburn’s role on the bottom defence pair. But in the playoffs, the guy has been awful. He hesitates when he has the puck on his stick, turns it over about 20 times a game and can’t hold the offensive blue line to retain offensive zone possession if his life depended on it. When he has the puck and he’s looking to break it out of the defensive zone, (and there’s a Blue Jackets forward forechecking) he instantly looks lost. He’ll turn back, go around behind the Lightning net, then reverse it up the boards, right into the skates of that same Jackets forward that was skating towards him on the forecheck. He does this on multiple occasions and it’s pathetic. Did I mention Jon Cooper yet?
My Three Stars
*Sergei Bobrovsky: As I mentioned in my series preview, Bobrovsky could steal this series from Tampa Bay, and that’s exactly what’s happening
**Matt Duchene: He’s absolutely been on fire. Tampa Bay can’t figure out how to stop this man.
***Erik Cernak: Figured I could maybe squeeze someone from the Lightning in here. Got an assist on the only goal scored for Tampa Bay.
Potential For Next Game
I got one word for you: Brooms. Take them out Columbus, because that’s exactly the way it’s going. Cooper doesn’t know what the hell he is doing, and has only gotten this far strictly because of how absolutely stacked the roster is. So unless Cooper gets fired or begins using the smart part of his brain, instead of just trying the same damn things every game and hoping it will work because this team won 62 games in the regular season, then I have no confidence that they will win Game 4. But there’s always hope!
Stats provided by hockey-reference
Featured Image Photo Credit: Nikos Michals