No Mercy: Blue Jackets Must Keep Foot on Gas to Finish Job Against Lightning

By Chris Pennington on April 15, 2019 at 1:45 pm
Cam Atkinson is tied with Matt Duchene for the Columbus Blue Jackets team-lead in goals so far in this years' playoffs.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

A 2-0 lead might be the most dangerous lead in hockey, but a 3-0 (series) lead against the Tampa Bay Lightning can be just as terrifying.

How'd we get here? A 3-1 victory in Game 3 on Sunday night at Nationwide Arena, which put the Columbus Blue Jackets in prime positioning to effectively end the first-round series on Tuesday night.

This would be the first time in NHL history that the team that won the Presidents' Trophy would be swept in the playoffs in that same year.

By no means, though, is that a guaranteed outcome.

"I'm not too sure I'm interested in talking about how proud I am of the team right now," said Head Coach John Tortorella after Sunday's win. "I'm happy about the way we've gone about our business...we have a lot of work to do. We have to be really careful here."

Tortorella is right when he says that the Blue Jackets need to be careful - and not because a 3-0 lead is an easy mountain to climb for any team, but because of who this 3-0 lead is being held against.

Let's push the hype, excitement and daydreaming about the next series aside for one second. It was less than a week ago, mind us all, that the general consensus of the hockey world (including a lot of Blue Jacket fans) was that the series would end with "Tampa in four".

And there were very good reasons for those claims. This Lightning team, if you hadn't heard enough by now, had one of the greatest regular season teams in the history of the NHL. We all watched them outscore the Blue Jackets by a margin of 17-3 over the course of three games this year. We saw Sergei Bobrovsky let in eight goals in one game, the offense get shutout in another and the defense be lost in their own zone for minutes at a time.

You better believe Tampa Bay remembers those games, too.

Yes, there have been only four times in NHL history that a team has come back from a 3-0 series deficit in the playoffs. In a series that is already defying history, though, we cannot ignore the possibility of that script being completely flipped back towards Tampa Bay - and they know it.

"We can definitely do it. If there’s a group that can, it’s us," said Lightning forward Tyler Johnson after his club's loss on Sunday night.

After being dominated for almost seven-straight periods ranging from Game 1 to Game 3, the Lightning started to get a feel for themselves again in the third period of Sunday night's game. That period, they led the way with a 63.33 CF% between the two clubs and had ten scoring chances to the Blue Jackets' six.

Thankfully, the comeback was a bit too late and the Blue Jackets closed out the game, putting the Lightning on thin ice in the series - a space they really haven't lived on all season.

However, with their 2018-2019 NHL-leading scorer in Nikita Kucherov returning for Game 4 and getting some of their swagger back at the end of Game 3, Tampa Bay is in position to come out guns blazing on Tuesday night.

The first-ever playoff series victory for the Blue Jackets may be one win away, but it will not be gifted to them. This next game may be the difference between sweeping one of the greatest hockey teams of all time, or blowing a 3-0 lead. 

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