“Pulling the Rope”: How a Team Effort from the Blue Jackets is Leading to Wins in Every Way Imaginable

By Jason Priestas on April 16, 2019 at 9:52 am
Josh Anderson has been a wrecking ball in the Blue Jackets' series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

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Game 1 was an epic comeback, unlike any in Columbus Blue Jackets postseason history.

Two nights later, the Blue Jackets blew the Lightning out of their own building, another first for a franchise playing its 18th season in the National Hockey League.

When the series shifted to Columbus for Game 3, it played out in more familiar fashion for Blue Jackets fans watching their team in the playoffs as Columbus forged a two-goal lead, saw it cut in half, and then held on for a close win.

With a chance to sweep the Lightning at home tonight, the Blue Jackets are on the precipice of another first, both for the franchise and in terms of NHL history. No team has won the Presidents' Trophy only to see their postseason end in four games.

It's easy to get caught up in new heights, but if you look closer, there's a bigger story to this series: the Blue Jackets are beating the Lightning in every way possible.

Comebacks, blowouts, physical contests that end with an empty net goal—the wins are coming every way possible, and that's a testament to how well Columbus is playing in this series.

“The way we're playing is the way you need to play to win hockey games, throughout the group,” captain Nick Foligno said following Game 3.

“The way we're playing is the way you need to play to win hockey games.”– Nick Foligno

Offensively, they're making the most of their chances and that starts with the forechecking this team has bought into. John Tortorella has the luxury of rolling four lines that are all uniquely capable of creating their own forms of havoc, but every forward on the team is placing a priority on forechecking. It's not a difficult concept, but not every team is willing to put in that kind of work.

Think of Josh Anderson as a wrecking ball with a scorer's touch. Or Artemi Panarin fighting so hard for for a puck along the boards only to get rewarded with the Jackets' fifth goal Friday night in Game 2.

Sometimes the forechecking results in a turnover in Tampa's end. Other times, it's a giveaway in the neutral zone. Wherever a puck squirts loose, the Jackets seem to capitalize and everyone is getting in on the act. The team's 12 goals have come from 10 different goal scorers.

Defensively, the Blue Jackets are getting elite performances from their top three defensemen: Seth Jones, Zach Werenski and David Savard. Beyond those three, you have young players like Dean Kukan, who did not expect to play the kind of minutes he's logged, skating well and building confidence every night.

“I think guys like Dean Kukan and Scott Harrington have handled the opportunity great,” GM Jarmo Kekalainen said. “Dean Kukan hasn't played a lot this year, Harry played most of the games all year, but Kukan has been tremendous now that he's gotten the opportunity to play full time.”

A team down three injured blueliners is not supposed to be playing this well. Yet here they are, limiting Tampa's quality chances, stepping up to keep pucks in the zone, locking the Lightning's path through the middle, blocking shots, and finding good clearing outlets in their own zone.

Behind them, Sergei Bobrovsky is having the postseason of his life, carrying a .940 save percentage and a 1.67 goals against average against the highest scoring team in the NHL. It's certainly early, but those are Conn Smythe numbers.

GIF: Matt Duchene passes the kepi to Sergei Bobrovsky after Sunday's Game 3 win.

There haven't been any fluke goals or questionable calls in this series. Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper was right four days ago when he called this a “five-alarm fire.” The Lightning are simply getting outworked, out-schemed, and outplayed, in every way imaginable.

“We have that belief in our locker room right now,” Werenski said. “It's a ton of fun going out there and playing that way. Everyone is pulling the rope.”

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