Here's a sentence that, until now, didn't have any reason to exist: the Columbus Blue Jackets have a chance to win a playoff series tonight. For the first time in franchise history, the Blue Jackets are on the right side of a potential elimination game.
Columbus is officially playing with house money, and have a shot at history tonight against the Tampa Bay Lightning at Nationwide Arena (7p, FSO/NBCSN) for Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series. It's been smooth sailing so far for Columbus, despite being massive underdogs coming into the series, as they've now outscored Tampa Bay by an astounding 11-2 margin over the last eight periods of play.
|CBJ 3, TBL 0 • EASTERN CONF QTRS|
|TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING|
62–16–4 // 128 points
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
7 P.M. – TUESDAY, APRIL 16
FOX SPORTS OHIO, CNBC
FSO STREAM, CNBC STREAM
At this point, you know how things have gone for Columbus. They took Game 1 after being down 3-0 in the first period, then blew the doors off of Tampa to take that one 5-1. They then defended home ice in a tough, close battle, taking that one 3-1.
Now, with a 3-0 series lead, Columbus has four swings at this one. But it'll be quite a bit sweeter if they can pull it off tonight.
MoneyPuck's model is confident that the Blue Jackets will make it out of this round – giving them an 89.5% chance to do so – but not so high on their chances tonight, giving them a 44.3% chance of taking Game 4.
Between that and memories of a few uninspiring home performances over the course of the regular season against marquee opponents – plus Tampa seemingly starting to click in the third period of Game 3 – there's some cause for concern tonight. Still, if it doesn't happen tonight, Columbus could get three shots at it after that.
Either way, it's clear that Tampa's stars aren't firing on all cylinders. Nikita Kucherov will return tonight from a suspension, but he hasn't notched a point all series. Neither have Brayden Point or Steven Stamkos, who along with Kucherov combined for 318 points in thee regular season.
Perhaps the secret lies in the Blue Jackets' defensive tactics, making life tough for Tampa in the neutral zone, something few teams risked trying during the regular season. By suffocating Tampa defensively and showcasing loads of skill themselves, the Blue Jackets have looked like the superior team so far in this series.
|ONE||WEDS, APR. 10, 2019||CBJ 4, TBL 3 // HIGHLIGHTS|
|TWO||FRI, APR. 12, 2019||CBJ 5, TBL 1 // HIGHLIGHTS|
|THREE||SUN, APR. 14, 2019||CBJ 3, TBL 1 // HIGHLIGHTS|
|FOUR||TUES, APR. 16, 2019||TBD|
Sergei Bobrovsky has a chance to fully put his playoff demons to bed in this one, as he's been marvelous in this series. He may have been shaky to open Game 1, but he's been outstanding ever since. Tampa's scored twice on him, but both goals barely trickled into the net.
Make no mistake, though, Bobrovsky isn't carrying Columbus on his own. Seth Jones and Matt Duchene have been the best skaters in this series by no small margin, and Columbus is getting contributions from guys like Josh Anderson and Cam Atkinson, too.
Duchene, like Bobrovsky (and the whole damn Blue Jackets franchise), was seemingly cursed in the postseason. Between injuries during the Colorado Avalanche's playoff appearances (or general ineffectiveness when healthy) during his time there and getting traded to an Ottawa Senators team expected to contend before absolutely imploding, Duchene seemed as snakebitten as any player outside of Bobrovsky when it came to postseason performance.
Now, it sure seems like playoff karma is finally coming back around for Duchene, Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets.
Speaking of star power, while Kucherov is back for the Bolts tonight, Victor Hedman – last year's Norris Trophy winner – is doubtful to play in tonight's bout, according to Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper. For the Blue Jackets, it looks like Brandon Dubinsky will take his normal shift.
Ryan Murray and Adam McQuaid look to be working their way back, but it'd be a surprise if either of them drew into the lineup for tonight's game. Similarly, Vladislav Gavrikov is unlikely to be through immigration and cleared to play in tonight's game, but crazier things have happened.
Columbus Blue Jackets Projected Lines
|9||ARTEMI PANARIN||18||PIERRE-LUC DuBOIS||28||OLIVER BJORKSTRAND||8||ZACH WERENSKI||3||SETH JONES|
|19||RYAN DZINGEL||95||MATT DUCHENE||13||CAM ATKINSON||65||MARKUS NUTIVAARA||58||DAVID SAVARD|
|42||ALEXANDRE TEXIER||71||NICK FOLIGNO||77||JOSH ANDERSON||4||SCOTT HARRINGTON||14||DEAN KUKAN|
|17||BRANDON DUBINSKY||38||BOONE JENNER||20||RILEY NASH|
|72||SERGEI BOBROVSKY||70||JOONAS KORPISALO|
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
|86||NIKITA KUCHEROV||21||BRAYDEN POINT||37||YANNI GOURDE||27||RYAN MCDONAGH||81||ERIK CERNAK|
|18||ONDREJ PALAT||91||STEVEN STAMKOS||9||TYLER JOHNSON||98||MIKHAIL SERGACHEV||5||DAN GIRARDI|
|17||ALEX KILLORN||71||ANTHONY CIRELLI||10||J.T. MILLER||55||BRAYDON COBURN||44||JAN RUTTA|
|73||ADAM ERNE||13||CEDRIC PAQUETTE||7||MATHIEU JOSEPH|
|88||ANDREI VASILEVSKIY||70||LOUIS DOMINGUE|
Game 4 Storylines
- Just Win, Baby. Listen, there are definitely other storylines here, but there's only one that matters: the Columbus Blue Jackets, for the first time in their franchise history, are on the right side of a potential series-clinching game. Win tonight, and they're onto the next round – and get the notoriety that comes with pulling off what will be seen as the greatest playoff upset in modern league history.
- Bolts: Shook? After ripping through the regular season and facing basically zero adversity, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked like a lost team out there until the third period of Game 3. Between Kucherov's suspension, Hedman's trash talk and Stamkos's sucker punch at the end of Game 3, it's clear that Columbus is in their heads. After Game 2, we wrote about how Columbus had seemingly taken a sledgehammer to Tampa's psyche. Those words seemed prescient by the end of Game 3, and the Blue Jackets will look to muster up one more big swing of that sledgehammer tonight. But will Tampa have some self-inflicted wounds in their most daunting game of the season?
- Slaying Goliath. Coming into this series, the hockey world seemed to think a Tampa series win – and likely in five games or fewer – was a foregone conclusion. The only praise for Columbus seemed to boil down to "well, they could make things tough" yet was always followed by a "but" and more glowing words for Tampa. Even now, the narrative has been less about giving Columbus credit and more about pointing fingers at Tampa for choking away what apparently should have been a sure thing. The Blue Jackets don't need any extra motivation – all they have to do is look back on the first three games and keep doing the right things – but you can bet that if they do pull this thing off tonight, the larger narrative will become a big part of their motivation.