Welcome to “An Oral History of the Sweep” where the staff of 1st Ohio Battery relives the Columbus Blue Jackets' epic, four-game throttling of the Presidents Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning.
Rob Mixer, Senior Editor: So, we're talking about Game 2 between the Blue Jackets and Lightning. I think most of us, sorry Jacob, were collected at Jason's house for this because I believe his superstition made it so we weren't able to not watch the second game together, after watching the first game together.
Chris Pennington, Associate Editor: We know that Jason believes in all sorts of superstitions.
Rob: Yes. So that prompted us to watch the second game at the Priestas house, which was kind of what we needed to do after Game 1, watching it together. I think we should start by talking about kind of what we were thinking before this second game. Personally, I was thinking pretty much the same thing I was thinking before the first game: that the Jackets were prime to get their doors blown off for a completely different reason than I felt before the first one. I was worried that they kind of had shaken the bee's nest a little bit, or the beehive, and kind of prodded the Lightning into caring about the series, or at least taking it seriously when maybe going into it, they weren't. I felt that going into Game 2 that it was going to be a completely different team that the Blue Jackets were facing, just because the Lightning had been perturbed. They had been shocked, in a bunch of different ways after losing the first one on home ice, but it just felt like a different animal they were going up against. They were going against a team that was pissed off, a team that was embarrassed and humbled, and a team with that kind of pedigree didn't need a whole lot of motivation. But, the Blue Jackets might have given it to them in Game 1. I felt going into Game 2 that this was going to be the true Game 1 of the series. I don't know how you guys felt. Chris, go ahead.
Chris: Yeah, I think the bear was poked to say the least at the end of Game 1. I think the Jackets, in a way, stole that Game 1, and I think everyone collectively in the hockey world, maybe outside of Columbus and even a lot in Columbus said, "Okay. They let their guard down maybe a little bit, the Jackets kind of stormed out and took periods 2 and 3 in Game 1, but Tampa's Tampa and they're going to wake up and be fine coming into this game." I kind of had a similar mindset, where I was like, "Well, we get at least one more game of hockey. We have to go back to Tampa for a Game 5." I was under the impression that we had just kind of ripped away a couple periods and how I thought the series was originally going to go was probably still going to play out.
Dan Dukart, Staff Writer: Yeah, I was pretty pessimistic going into this game. I remember thinking to myself that we're playing with house money at this point, seeing your team go up, stealing home ice. There's the old adage that if you just win the odd games 1, 3, 5, and 7 you come out on top. Even from that standpoint, it was like, if they can find a way to win this game, that'd be great, but I certainly didn't expect them to and I also didn't really consider that they could or would.
|Cam Atkinson (1)Duchene (1) at 5:15|
|Zach Werenski (1)Duchene (2) at 11:44|
|Matt Duchene (1)Panarin (2), Werenski (2) at 1:28|
|Mikhail Sergachev (1)Miller (2), Cernak (2) at 5:00|
|Riley Nash (1)Jenner (2) at 9:06|
|Artemi Panarin (1)Duchene (3), Bjorkstrand (1) at 12:15|
Jacob Nitzberg, Staff Writer: Yeah, I agree. After Game 1, I was just kind of thinking to myself, I was like, "Okay. That was pretty cool, but I don't know if they're going to be able to do it again. Like you guys touched on, it kind of felt like Tampa had let their guard down and they would be ready for Game 2 and the Blue Jackets would just run into a storm. Pardon my pun, but...
Jacob: I know, I know. It was unintentional. But yeah, I probably felt the same way I felt before Game 1, but it felt good to know at least we weren't going to get swept, I guess is where I would put my confidence level before Game 2.
Rob: Yeah, and I think too, the optimist in you is thinking of previous playoff series, going all the way back to 2014 and we won't even count the 2009 series because it was just so terrible. But you split in Pittsburgh, you take the first two in Washington. You've seen the Blue Jackets before get off to a decent start in a series and it hasn't gone very well, but this one is different because you're going into Game 2 thinking, "We're playing the President's Trophy Winners, and you're going back to Columbus at least, at the very worst, you're going back 1-1."
This game starts, and it's pretty even for the first few minutes, and then, again, the Blue Jackets strike first. You get a puck to the net, and Cam Atkinson cleans it up, and it's 1-0 a few minutes in. This all happened very fast in this game, whereas Game 1 was a very slow crescendo up the mountain, so to speak. This one was the Blue Jackets almost being like the roles were flipped. In Game 1 in the first period, you could tell that Tampa smelled blood and they put every mistake into the net and it was an onslaught in the first 20. Here, it was the complete opposite. The Blue Jackets pounded them in the first period, and they scored two. They could have scored three or four. You get the Atkinson goal early, you get the Zach Werenski goal a minute later, and it's 2-0 like that. All that confidence or angst or bravado that you thought Tampa had, in the blink of an eye it was gone. Dan, what did you see from Tampa after that, bang-bang, 2-0 that was different than maybe you thought you would see?
Dan: It was really the first time in the series that you saw doubt creep in for Tampa, just like, "This is not what we expected." It was a different vibe than Game 1, where you could argue that they just let one get away. But, like you said, in the first ten minutes of Game 2, Columbus was definitively the better team. You could just see heads go up after Werenski scored, and I think it just totally took Tampa by surprise.
Rob: Yeah, so if you remember after Game 3, Jon Cooper said this is a five-alarm fire. Looking back on it, Chris, do you think that the sprinklers were turning on after the 2-0 goal in Game 2?
Chris: Yeah. I took a decent look at Cam's first goal, the 1-0 goal to get the game started. Tampa's still, you still kind of see them playing with this swagger like, "We got this under control." I think it was Cernak that sends a 50/50 puck up the boards in his own zone kind of lazily, Duchene jumps in, steals it, and Atkinson slips in behind the defense. No one really has an eye on him. Vasilevskiy is in his net, he's hugging the post, thinking Duchene is going to take a horrible angled shot, and then lets in a pretty bad tip. I think at that moment, you felt the building go, "Oh, this is going to be a series," more than just, "Okay, we're going to storm back and take these next four games." Then they take two penalties right after that. Werenski goes top shelf just five seconds into the second power play, and then he gets into a fight five minutes later. I think it wasn't just the Tampa fans that were starting to doubt, I think the Jackets were starting to grow confidence on their own. And when Zach Werenski starts fighting, I think you know that's got to be true.
Rob: Yeah. Jacob, I think this is when I think we collectively realized: A. The Blue Jackets have grown some balls, and B. They're not fucking around. I think we all thought, "Okay, they took Game 1, that's cute. But now the adults are going to play." But it wasn't like that. 2-0, I mean, shit's going down, right? What were you thinking?
Jacob: Yeah. Their first period proved that Game 1 wasn't a fluke. Any good team can put together a couple good periods or one good game. But in order to win a series, you have to do that multiple times, and I wasn't sure if the Blue Jackets could do that. But, in the second game, the Blue Jackets came out and hit Tampa in the mouth. Two quick goals in the first period, and like we touched on, Z is fighting. That doesn't happen. Ever. And then, you move into the second period and Duchene buries a rebound on the power play just a minute and a half into it. The Blue Jackets are up 3-0 now and you can just feel the air leave the arena.
Rob: Yeah. I think this is a good time to take a moment and talk about Matt Duchene. This is a Matt Duchene appreciation podcast about how good he was in this series. I mean, you could list a CVS Pharmacy receipt of things he did well in this series while not playing with Artemi Panarin and not playing with the top powerplay all the time. This guy was so good from the second the series started, and no matter where they put him, he found a way to make things happen. Chris, what did you like about Duchene? In Game 2 I think he really came alive.
Chris: Yeah, I think he was just a threat whenever he touched the puck. There was a play that would have been one of the coolest goals I've ever seen two minutes into Game 2 that he just walked through the entire team and had a good low pad shot on Vasilevskiy who turned it away. I think he just had this confidence about him that whenever he was touching the puck, people were drawn to him. He led both teams in points by the end of the series with seven. The closest on Tampa was three. I think this was just a dude who had never touched the playoffs in his life, and he was ready to make his mark. I mean you even see on the first goal with Cam, he's sitting on the goal line, three guys have their eyes on him including Vasilevskiy, and no one notices Cam coming in. The goal at the end of the game with Panarin, the entire team goes over to him and Panarin's left wide open on the backdoor. I think this is a guy that, like I said on the last podcast, a lot of people might have chalked him up to be a big fish in a small pond in Ottawa. They thought that he was only racking up points because he was playing with some bottom-feeders. But, this is a dude who was ready for postseason hockey and he came out flying.
Rob: Dan, do you think that that's a player that can kind of get lost? Not that he's not a big name, but is he a player that maybe flies under the radar? I mean, he's not Panarin, Cam Atkinson, Oliver Bjorkstrand who was so big in the whole series, Jones, or Werenski. He's there, you know he's there, but you don't really notice him until he's there, right?
Dan: Yeah. You said it perfectly, I mean, Game 2 was definitely his coming out party and Chris did a nice job to mention the almost-goal he had, but he did score later in the game. He made it 3-0 on the power play by tucking in a rebound underneath Vasilevskiy. But, like you said, he was just making great plays all around the ice, and this was really the first time, honestly maybe since he became a Blue Jacket, that he was this dynamic of a player. Everything he touched was gold. That goal that made it 5-1 that Chris was just talking about, where he fed Panarin backdoor, may have been my favorite goal of the entire series. It was just the most demoralizing goal. It was like they were playing against a peewee team. Yeah, this was his best game by a mile. I don't know if you can say he got lost in the weeds, but there was definitely something about this game that instilled confidence in him.
"This was (Duchene's) best game by a mile. I don't know if you can say he got lost in the weeds, but there was definitely something about this game that instilled confidence in him."– Dan Dukart
Chris: First Jacket to have four points in a playoff game.
Rob: That's crazy. I think this is a good time for us to talk too about how after the first period, it's 2-0, and it's starting to get real that this is not what we thought it was going to be and it's probably not going to be the way we thought it was going to be for a long time. It's almost criminal on their part that the Blue Jackets backed their way into the playoffs because of how talented they were. Where, you look at them up against Tampa and think, "Okay. This is obviously a mismatch." But, you go a little deeper, the Blue Jackets had three lines and two groups of defensemen and an elite goaltender. It almost makes a little more sense a year later to think about this, that they were able to go up against these guys. I don't think they got the credit they deserved for how talented they were, maybe because of who they were playing, I don't know.
Dan: I'll take that one. I remember during our Game 1 chat, we were talking about how this team kind of underachieved down the stretch. Then after they eventually lost in Game 6 to the Bruins, the narrative was completely rewritten by the national media in the sense of, "This team is legit and they weren't a traditional second wildcard team or an eight seed or however you want to phrase it." They certainly didn't have that respect coming into the playoffs. If they didn't have that after Game 1, Game 2 is one that earned it.
Chris: Yeah, it bums me out because we often say that's the best Jackets team that's ever been on paper, and I don't think they figured it out until the second period of Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs in the first round. I think I'll always look back to that season as what could have been because I think that's a Stanley Cup team in a lot of seasons. If they don't run into the Bruins, I think that's a cup-winning team.
Rob: There are so many guys on that team that you look back and think, "Man, they were such a big part of it." And Jacob, I think that one guy we haven't really talked about a whole lot yet, and who like Duchene was a big part of Game 2, is Josh Anderson, who we didn't see a lot of this year for his injury trouble. He scores a big goal in Game 1, but he was really good in Game 2 and Game 3 too. In Game 2, I thought he was, again, a big part of what they were doing because the Blue Jackets could not back down. They were up 2-0 and they get the third one in the second period and the dam starts to break.
Jacob: I think we saw the best of Josh Anderson in the playoffs last year and it was really unfortunate that we really didn't get to see much of it this season. Although he didn't get on the scoresheet in Game 2, what he brings to the table means he doesn't need to get on the scoresheet to be an effective presence, because he forechecks so hard and makes players make mistakes with the puck because they feel him coming, and they're nervous. He did a lot of that in Game 2. He did take a couple of penalties in the third period, including 10 minutes with Hedman with five minutes remaining in that big scrum.
Chris: Well worth it.
Jacob: Yeah. I think it was a very typical Josh Anderson game of last year, maybe minus a goal or an assist.
Chris: I think you're exactly right, Jacob, in talking about his presence that doesn't show up on the scoresheet. I remember there was a moment a few minutes into the second period after we had already gone up 3-0, and there was a routine dump-and-chase play into Tampa's zone and Hedman is almost jogging back to get it. Anderson comes blitzing around guys, slams Hedman into the boards and throws it in front of the net. Dubois is right there for a one-timer and Vasilevskiy makes an incredible save. I know we all saw this, that the whistle blows and it's kind of dead for a second, and Kucherov comes over and just whacks Dubois on the ankle. I think we all kind of looked at each other and were like, "Oh my gosh. They're pissed off. They're rattled right now." Our little Columbus Blue Jackets are rattling one of the greatest regular season teams of all time, and it's happening in Game 2 right in front of our eyes.
Rob: Yeah. We talk about teams getting under their opponents' skin, and Columbus has been good at that for a very long time, but the Blue Jackets didn't get under their skin. They inhabited their bodies. Every joint and crevasse of Tampa's persona was occupied by the Blue Jackets at that point in Game 2. At 2-0, it's still a game, the Lightning can still score goals. At 3-0, when Matt Duchene scores on the power play, it's different. They get one back in the third period, but I didn't blink. Dan, did you blink when they scored to make it 3-1? I didn't really think it was a big deal.
Dan: No. Not at that point. Maybe this is getting too far ahead here, but you guys were talking about seeing the Lightning rattled. Rob, you had mentioned earlier about Jon Cooper's comments about the five-alarm fire, but to me, the most obvious example of this was when Kucherov, who was on his way to winning the Hart, buried Nutivaara from behind and ended up getting subsequently suspended for a game. That was late in the third period, and it was just one of those, "I cannot believe this is happening" moments. Like Chris said, this team has completely gotten under the skin of the Lightning. And now, Tampa's doing a terrible job of even hiding it.
Rob: Yeah. I turned to Kyle at the time, and I said, "Tampa has shit their pants." They've unraveled. I never like to get too far ahead of myself because I always think that whatever I think, the opposite is bound to happen. But, in the third period, it's 3-1. Let the record show, Jason spent the entire last half of the regular season and the playoffs dunking on Riley Nash. Just dunking on him about how he sucks.
Chris: Our president, Riley Nash.
Rob: Yeah. And I told Jason, at his house, in his own residence, I said, "You laugh now, but this guy's going to score a big goal in the playoffs." And he rolled his eyes.
Jason Priestas, Publisher: He still not great offensively! Like, none of this has changed.
Rob: Oh, he's unmuted himself. That's great. He rolled his eyes. And then, sure enough, a line the Jackets didn't get a whole lot out of in the first round enters the fray. I mean, they got some "good minutes," to quote John Tortorella, but they didn't get a whole lot out of these guys. However, Boone Jenner makes a play on the wall, steals a puck, and he gets it to Riley Nash in the slot and he shoots from 30 feet out and he scores an awful goal on Vasilevskiy. It was a spot where they scored a lot of goals in the series; I can count at least four goals in this series that they scored high over his right shoulder. Looking back on it, I still think that that was something they had to have talked about. Dan, I'll let the coach talk about this one. They score a number of goals over Vasilevskiy's right shoulder, including one from 30 feet out, uncontested, to make it 4-1. At that point, if you weren't thinking it before, at this point, the game is over. It's 4-1 with 13 minutes left. That goal ends it. Any life Tampa thought they had after making it 3-1 was sucked away by a goal from Columbus's fourth line, and Dan, I think it's a good time to talk about those guys. We've talked about the big guns and Jones and Werenski and the power play, but that fourth line was a bigger part of the series than I think we can talk about on a macro level. They were, I hate to use the word identity because I think it's kind of bullshit, but those guys kind of led the way there.
"At that point, if you weren't thinking it before, at this point, the game is over. It's 4-1 with 13 minutes left. That (Nash) goal ends it."– Rob Mixer
Dan: Absolutely. You're right to give Nash some credit. Whatever the scouting report on Vasilevskiy is, the Blue Jackets clearly found some success shooting high on that blocker side, like you mentioned, Rob. Bjorkstrand scored there, Jones scored there, and then Nash scored there too. This was a huge goal, given Tampa had just scored. The difference between 3-1 and 4-1, especially on the road like that, and just without letting Tampa have any life, for the fourth line to go out and score a goal like that when really their role in a situation like this was more like self-preservation, was just icing on the cake.
Rob: Chris, how many times do you think after it was 3-0 in Game 2 til the end of the series do you think Tampa actually had a pulse? I think they had a pulse at 2-1 in Game 4 and 3-3 in Game 4, but at 3-3 in Game 4 it lasted like a minute. At that point, at 4-1 in Game 2, it felt like it was time to turn it off.
Chris: I think what the Jackets did so well in this series was responding to Tampa's onslaughts immediately. I mean, you see them pull within 3-1 in Game 2 with 15 minutes left in the third, and I mean, honestly, until this series ended I did not think we were going to win it. Even up 4-1, I'm like, it's Tampa, they'll probably still come back. But when they pull within 3-1, Riley Nash scores a minute later. When Point ties it in Game 4, Bjorkstrand scores a minute later. I think the Blue Jackets did a great job of responding immediately to shut down any momentum that Tampa was gaining throughout the series. It was coming from all ends of the spectrum. That Boone Jenner - Riley Nash goal, that's just a 50/50 dumped-in puck that Boone, like a deranged animal, just goes after like a maniac and causes a turnover. He then flips it into the neutral zone where Riley Nash is undetected for good reason. I mean, no one really cares about two-goal Riley Nash. He wires one home, and I hate to use this phrase, but I do think there was a sense of the Jackets just wanting it more. I grew up playing sports, and that's not the most logical reason to say that a team wins, but I think there is a factor of a team just wanting to win a game more than the other team, and I think that was the Jackets a lot of this series.
Rob: Yeah. I'll go to Jacob and then Dan for this last one. We talked about the 5-1 goal, and how it was just like the Globetrotters dunking on them at that point. One thing that stood out from the Jackets in Game 2, and throughout the series, is that a team like Tampa is going to surge, you would think, at some point. I can think of maybe two instances where they actually surged. Game 1, in the first period, I wouldn't even call it a surge. I would call it largely self-inflicted. The first goal's a turnover, the second goal is an awful rebound, and the third goal is, well, you can't do much about that. I think in Game 4, they surged a little bit in the late second period to make it 3-3. For a team that's that good, for Columbus to not led them build anything to make them feel good was as big a storyline as anything in the series. If you give them a little bit of life, things are completely different. The way the Jackets played from the start of the second period in Game 1 all the way through, they didn't let them have anything.
Jacob: Yeah. They played an aggressive brand of hockey for all four games. They were forechecking hard and they weren't giving Tampa's stars much breathing room to move the puck around. They had timely scoring. When Tampa scores that 3-1 goal, I mean, maybe there's some life there, but Riley Nash buries it in Game 2. And then, 3-3 in Game 4, one minute later, it's over. Any time Tampa, you felt maybe they were going to finally show their caliber and their offensive talent, the Blue Jackets just snuffed it out.
Rob: Yeah, and Dan, I'll go to you. This is a time to talk about how in Game 2, I think we realized that Tampa's stars were spooked. They were rattled. You have the Kucherov hit, you have Victor Hedman trying to recover from what happened to him, thanks to David Savard in Game 1. All of the cards in the house were starting to fall the wrong direction for them and they weren't getting goals from their top guys. They weren't getting offense from their power play. They weren't getting anything from the guys they were used to getting it from. The only person trying to hold them into it was their goalie. How demoralizing do you think it was for Tampa to not really get anything from Stamkos, from Kucherov, from Point in those first two to three games?
Dan: Yeah, absolutely. The interesting thing, too, is I'm not sure how much I believe in momentum between games, especially in the playoffs, but Columbus couldn't have set themselves up any better coming home for Game 3. Conversely, Tampa was minus Kucherov, having just been blown out in their home building, two days after spotting a team a 3-0 lead. The delta here between the two locker rooms after Game 2 could not have been any different, I would imagine. There's this sense that Columbus is clicking. They're getting goals from Riley Nash, and Tampa can't get a goal from Kucherov, Stamkos, Hedman, Point, Cirelli, Killorn, all their guys. There's just a difference in vibes coming out of Game 2. Changing cities was just staggering.
Chris: Having three 90+ point guys not have a single point in two games kind of sums up everything we've been saying. You can't win a game if that's what your case is, and I think the Jackets shut them down well and made them rely on their 40 and 50 point guys.
Photo(s): Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports