The Columbus Blue Jackets had no answer for the Tampa Bay Lightning third line of Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman, and Yanni Gourde in a 2-1 loss in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
The Lightning's trio was often matched against the Blue Jackets third line, a veteran crew of Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner, and Cam Atkinson. On the surface, one would think Columbus would have an edge, or at a minimum, a wash, but that was far from the case in the loss.
The line was easily the best grouping on the ice for either team, managing to push the pace and establish a forecheck that gave the Lightning a huge edge. They scored both of the Tampa Bay goals within a five-minute stretch early in the second period. Meanwhile, they also shut down the Blue Jackets attack. In over 12 minutes of 5v5 play, the Lightning's third line was on the ice for 19 shots - 14 of which came from their team, per NaturalStatTrick. They were so effective that the entire line was brought out together for media availability post-game.
“The one thing is they do set the tone for us,” Tampa Bay head coach Jon Cooper said of his third line after game 4. “They’ve started every game. You know, they’re like gnats. I feel like they’re always just buzzing around and when you try to knock them away, they just never leave. They’re pests. They put work ethic above everything else.
“They’re selfless payers and they don’t have an off switch and they’re finally being rewarded for their work. When you go through playoffs, usually lines cancel each other out and then you look for that quote-unquote third line to make a difference and they’ve definitely done that. There’s a lot of series left, but we wouldn’t be in the situation we are in right now without those guys.”
Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets third line had positive possession numbers, but in 9:19 together at 5v5, gave up both goals against. And while Atkinson redeemed himself with a goal of his own later in the frame (at 4v4), Foligno has tallied just one point so far in this series. Jenner has been held off the scoresheet entirely. That's simply not enough production.
The first Lightning goal was basically straight out of the Blue Jackets playbook. Puck in deep, get in on the forecheck, force the defenseman into a turnover, swarm the net. The second goal was a beautiful tip by Gourde, but he was left unencumbered by anything resembling defense. Jenner, in particular, will bear the brunt of the coverage mistakes from his coaching staff.
It's a bit ironic that a line with Goodrow and Coleman dominated the Blue Jackets. The two were acquired at the trade deadline this spring in separate trades for various first-round picks. The Lightning felt that, after being humbled physically by a tenacious Blue Jackets' forechecking group in last season's sweep, it would behoove them to have players of that profile in their own lineup. They paid a steep price for two non-star-level players who would ultimately play a checking-line role on a contending team. In Game 4, it paid dividends in a big way.
“The fact that they’ve started to see some success and they haven’t started to cheat for any offense, and they stick with the game plan,” Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of the line. “I think they realize they’re a really annoying line and a tough line to play against. They’re always in guys' faces and over top and they don’t really give you a lot of room.”
The Blue Jackets now find themselves in do-or-die territory after falling behind three games to one. They'll need their veteran-laden line to shut down the opposition, provide 5v5 scoring of their own, or both. In Game 4, we saw what happened when neither happens.