|TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING|
50–22–8 (108 points; .675%)
LINE: TB -380
7:00 P.M. – THURSDAY, APRIL 28TH
Bally Sports Ohio
ESPN+ (Out of Network)
In a season that surpassed the expectations of most, the Columbus Blue Jackets wrap up their home schedule Thursday night when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second time in three nights.
The Lightning were on point in the first half of the home-and-home, defeating the Blue Jackets 4-1 on the efforts of a four point night from captain Steven Stamkos. His two goals and two assists put him at 101 points on the season, besting his previous season high of 98 points that came during the 2018-19 season — one that ended at the hands of the Blue Jackets in an improbable opening round sweep.
Tuesday's loss put the Blue Jackets one game back in the loss column, with a record of 36-37-7. A win Thursday, however, would mean that Columbus — pegged by many experts in the fall to be amongst the worst teams in the league — could still finish with a winning record. After Thursday's game, the Blue Jackets will board a charter and conclude their season Friday night in Pittsburgh.
|PACES & PROJECTIONS|
|29.4%||MONEYPUCK'S ODDS TO WIN||70.6%|
|39.0%||THE 538'S ODDS TO WIN||61.0%|
|81.0||82-GAME POINT PACE||110.7|
Despite the win, the Lightning were officially eliminated Tuesday from gaining home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs when the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Detroit Red Wings. They'll finish either third or fourth in the Atlantic Division and face either the Maple Leafs (if they finish third) or the Florida Panthers (if they finish fourth, which would drop them a wildcard spot). A win over the Blue Jackets on Thursday (or over the New York Islanders on Friday night) would clinch the third spot in the division. Any loss by the Boston Bruins, who currently are three points back with two games to go, would also seal the deal.
With that in mind, it's possible that the Lightning give a night off to goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, who's having another outstanding season (.917 save percentage, 2.46 goals against, and a 38-18-5 mark as a starter). Columbus didn't generate much offense Tuesday, but Vasilevskiy was there for all but one save in the 4-1 victory. If head coach Jon Cooper gives him a night to sit, Columbus gets to battle Brian Elliot. In eight career games against the Blue Jackets, the veteran goaltender has allowed three or more goals in all but one appearance (and two goals in the 8th).
Oliver Bjorkstrand needs just one goal in the final two games to accomplish something that only Rick Nash has done before: lead the team in goals for three consecutive seasons. Bjorkstrand has 26 goals on the season, tied with Patrik Laine for the team lead. While it's true that Laine has played in far fewer games, the same was true for Bjorkstrand in the 2019-20 season: he had a team-leading 21 goals in just 49 games, missing 30% of the teams 70 games.
POT ONE, KJ
It has to have been a whirlwind in recent weeks for Kent Johnson, who went from playing for the Michigan Wolverines in the Frozen Four to skating for the Blue Jackets in a matter of days. With just two games left in a nine-game blur for Columbus' first pick in last summer's draft, Johnson is yet to bury the first of what will be many career NHL goals. Does he get it Thursday, in his last chance of the season in front of a home crowd?
|14||Gus Nyquist||96||Jack Roslovic||93||Jakub Voracek|
|13||Kent Johnson||34||Cole Sillinger||17||Justin Danforth|
|50||Eric Robinson||7||Sean Kuraly||28||Oliver Bjorkstrand|
|23||Brendan Gaunce||52||Emil Bemstrom||55||Carson Meyer|
|44||Vladislav Gavrikov||2||Andrew Peeke|
|53||Gabriel Carlsson||5||Gavin Bayreuther|
|77||Nick Blankenburg||22||Jake Bean|
|90||Elvis Merzlikins||30||Jean-Francois Berube|
*SUBJECT TO CHANGE