The Blue Jackets Are Once Again Up 2–0 As Underdogs in a Playoff Series – Here's Why This Year is Different

By Jason Priestas on April 13, 2019 at 6:37 am
This season is not last season.

Game 1 was a comeback for the ages.

Game 2, Friday night in in Tampa, was a beatdown that saw the Blue Jackets hand out their first ever postseason blowout, the league-best Lightning frustrated into dumb mistakes, and an eight seed heading back home with a commanding two-game lead in the series.

Most in the hockey world see the two games for what they are: the Blue Jackets dominating five of six periods against the best team of the NHL's salary cap era.

And then there are others, either Tampa Bay fans looking for hope, or Blue Jackets fans used to seeing their team, still looking for its first playoff series win, collapse to superior talent in the postseason.

What about last year!

It's true, the Blue Jackets jumped out to a similar two-game lead on the Washington Capitals in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last April. And just like they've done to the Lightning, the Jackets stole the first two games on the road to head home with a commanding lead in the series.

That's where the similarities end.

In Game 1 against the eventual Stanley Cup champions, Artemi Panarin found Seth Jones for the tying goal with just over four minutes to play before Panarin won the game in overtime. In Game 2, the Blue Jackets used a big second period to storm back from a 3-1 deficit before Matt Calvert won the game, again in overtime for Columbus.

The Blue Jackets were up 2–0 in the series, but you never got the feeling that Washington was playing poorly or that Columbus was dictating play for long stretches. The two comebacks that led to overtime winners attests to how hard the Jackets had to scrap for those two wins.

Against Tampa Bay this week, the Blue Jackets have looked like the best team in the NHL, submitting to their will a Lightning team that racked up 128 points this season.

After falling behind 3-0 in the first period of Game 1, Columbus outscored Tampa Bay 9-1 over the next five periods. And the Blue Jackets are getting it in waves: nine different players have goals for the Jackets.

Last year, Panarin put the team on his back in the postseason. This year, new additions like Matt Duchene give the Blue Jackets depth and John Tortorella four dangerous lines. It was Duchene who finished with a Blue Jackets' postseason club record three assists and four points Friday night.

It was Duchene making Panarin's job easier this postseason.

Capitals stars Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov each had a pair of goals through the first two games last year. This year, the three-headed monster of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point, who combined for 312 points in the regular season on the way to finishing 1st, 9th and 12th in scoring, have zero goals, zero assists, zero points and a -7 between them through two games.

That's the emergence of Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, David Savard and others on the blue line. That's Sergei Bobrovsky, notoriously underwhelming in the postseason, shining with a .925 save percentage and a 2.00 goals-against average.

The Blue Jackets are deeper, better, and more experienced, but they're also doing more of the little things. It's Boone Jenner busting his ass for a loose puck to set up Riley Nash so he could put the nail in Tampa Bay's coffin Friday night. It's Werenski getting in the first fight of his career on the way to a Gordie Howe Hat Trick.

Last year, the Capitals had a Vezina-winning goalie waiting on the bench. Barry Trotz made the move, inserting Braden Holtby and the Caps reeled off four-straight, setting up the run to their first Cup.

This year, the Lightning head to Columbus, wounded, with no better options on the bench and facing the very real possibility of hitting the ice for Game 3 with Kucherov suspended.

It doesn't just seem different this year. It is different.

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