Turning Points: Breaking Down the Key Moments That Helped the Blue Jackets Sweep the Lightning

By Chris Pennington on April 19, 2019 at 7:46 pm
The Columbus Blue Jackets swept the Tampa Bay Lightning, but we easily could've seen the script flipped if it were not for a few key moments.
Aaron Doster – USA TODAY Sports

Be honest: before the series started, you likely thought the Blue Jackets were the ones about to be swept.

The Tampa Bay Lighting then fell victim to one of the greatest upsets in NHL history, but just a few bounces or plays the other way, and Columbus could have been the team packing up and getting ready to hit the golf course.

So, what were those few bounces or plays? We broke down a few pivotal moments that helped the Blue Jackets win their first-ever Stanley Cup Playoffs series.

Game 1:

Sergei Bobrovsky Save (Period 2, 19:35)

Had Bobrovsky not made this save, there's a fair case to be made that the Blue Jackets would've lost Game 1, and that momentum could've carried the Lightning to a different outcome.

The Lightning had just polished off a 3-0 domination in the first period and looked ready to take control of the series, and potentially, start scouting their potential Round 2 opponent. But with this world-class save by Bobrovsky, the game stayed within the Blue Jackets' reach. And you know what happened next.

Nick Foligno Breakaway Goal (Period 2, 10:45)

Oh captain, our captain. This is what the leader of a team does. When your club is struggling, you find a way to make something happen.

Foligno broke through for the Blue Jackets in a game that could've easily been a lopsided defeat, thrusting hope into the hearts of his teammates to make the eventual comeback. From that point on, the Blue Jackets started to take control of the game and get their confidence to slay the beast.

Four-Minute Penalty Kill + Josh Anderson Shorthanded Goal 

(Period 3, 10:36, 8:06)

The Lightning had the NHL's best power play during the regular season, so why wouldn't it carry over to the postseason? Because the Blue Jackets, who had the second-best penalty kill during the regular season (behind the Lightning, funny enough), were prepared. They killed off two minutes of a four-minute high sticking penalty by Brandon Dubinsky, and then...

Josh Anderson did what he does, which is using his speed and a big body to bolt into the Tampa Bay zone, cut across the slot and go five-hole to tie the game. The Lightning were understandably shocked, and minutes later, committed a penalty that surrendered the game-winning goal at the hand of Seth Jones.

Game 2:

Matt Duchene & Cam Atkinson Team Up For Goal (Period 1, 14:45)

Everyone (except the Blue Jackets) was convinced that Game 1 was a fluke. That the Blue Jackets had caught the Lightning on cruise control and stole a road game. No matter, Tampa would win in five, right?

Wrong. The Blue Jackets' stapled forecheck set up Duchene to fire a pass down low to a cutting Atkinson to go up 1-0 just over five minutes into the game. You could hear every Lightning fan gasp in horror that this wouldn't be an easy series.

Boone Jenner Forecheck Leads to Riley Nash Goal (Third Period, 10:59)

The Lightning had enough embarrassment on home ice. They scored an early third period goal to cut the deficit to 3-1 and looked like they were ready to stage a comeback of their own and claw back in the series.

Insert the relentless energy of Boone Jenner. The puck had been gently dumped into the Tampa Bay zone, and Jenner kicked it into overdrive to chase down a puck that a lot of NHL players wouldn't have gone for. He stole it from the Lightning defenseman, flipped it to the middle of the ice, and watched Riley Nash end any sort of Lightning comeback.

Nikita Kucherov's Hit on Markus Nutivaara (Third Period, 4:27)

You've seen this clip everywhere by now.

Out of frustration with his team being manhandled 5-1 on home ice (to a team that had never won a playoff series), Nikita Kucherov threw a cheap hit at Markus Nutivaara. This resulted in a one-game suspension which helped the Blue Jackets en route to a Game 3 win. 

Kucherov had zero points in the series at that point, but he was the NHL's leading point-getter in 2018-2019 for a reason. His two assists in Game 4 are proof that his presence in Game 3 was sorely missed.

Game 3:

Matt Duchene Ice-Breaking Goal (Second Period, 18:16)

After going through a scoreless first period, there was an understanding that the first goal was going to have humongous ramifications on the outcome of the game. So, thank you, Matt Duchene.

When Vasilevskiy kicked a rebound out from a Zach Werenski point shot (that was deflected en route by Cam Atkinson), Duchene was waiting on the right hash and backhanded home the first goal of the game and his second of the playoffs. The Blue Jackets rode this wave to an Oliver Bjorkstrand game-winning goal just six minutes later.

Steven Stamkos Sucker-Punch (Third Period, 0:31)

Did this moment have an outcome on the game? Surely not, as the Blue Jackets were leading 3-1 with about 30 seconds remaining. But let's take a deeper dive into this.

The third period of Game 3 saw the Lightning take control, and through the heroics of Bobrovsky and a stout defense, the Blue Jackets buckled down and squeaked out the win. Columbus was on the verge of winning the game, but the momentum was certainly in the hands of Tampa Bay.

Then, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos threw a classless sucker-punch at Nick Foligno during a scrum after the whistle.

Way to give the Blue Jackets even more of a fire to close this thing out, Steven. If there was any apprehension on the Blue Jackets' end that Tampa Bay would come out flying in Game 4, it was replaced by excitement to bury a team that wasn't immune to cheap shots.

No Penalties During The Entire Game (Periods 1-3)

The best way to not get bludgeoned by the Lightning? Don't give them power plays. The Blue Jackets were one of the most disciplined teams in the NHL during the regular season, and that carried into the playoffs. Columbus took only four penalties in four games. 

We have no video for this because there's literally nothing to show. This was a big deal, folks: the Lightning relied on their man-advantage a lot during the season, and they got no help from the Blue Jackets.

Game 4:

Power Play Cruises with Alexandre Texier First Playoff Goal

(First Period, 17:34)

The Blue Jackets had one of the NHL's worst power plays in 2018-19, and this just goes to show that the playoffs are a different animal. If anything, you'd have thought they would struggle more against Tampa Bay's stifling penalty kill.

Alexandre Texier, the 19-year-old rookie called up in the penultimate regular season game, wasted no time finding his way onto the power play unit, and scored a huge goal to get things started in Game 4. The Blue Jackets finished the series at 50% on the power play, with Texier playing a key role in two goals.

Oliver Bjorkstrand Draws Penalty, Scores Game-Winner (Second Period, 1:14)

OK, there's a lot to break down here. The Blue Jackets had a 3-1 lead in the middle of the second period and seemed to be in control to finish the sweep. But the Lightning responded with two goals in six minutes to tie the game.

Nationwide Arena was stunned for a moment, and then exploded with cheers of encouragement for their team – and it felt like a lift for the Blue Jackets; 30 seconds later, Bjorkstrand drew a penalty, and instead of rushing to get the power play started, Panarin slowed the game down and let the delayed penalty ride. He then sent a beautiful cross-ice pass to Pierre-Luc Dubois, who threw the puck on net and Bjorkstrand cleaned up the mess.

The Lightning were about to jump into the driver's seat, but then the Blue Jackets, in Grand Theft Auto style, opened the door, threw them on the concrete and kicked them repeatedly in the head. That's what happened, right?

Sergei Bobrovsky Slams The Door Shut (Periods 2-3)

Think Bobrovsky wanted to get rid of his nightmarish postseason reputation? In a third period where it seemed like the puck was in the Columbus zone the entire 20 minutes, Bobrovsky continued to make clutch save after clutch save as his team held on for dear life to finish the series. 

If Tampa Bay scored and won the game, it's not crazy to think they could've pulled off the unthinkable. Bobrovsky was not about to let that happen.

What were your pivotal moments of the series that we did not mention, that helped the Blue Jackets win their first playoff series in franchise history?