It's the last one at home for a while.
The Columbus Blue Jackets completed the home slate of their schedule for the 2021-22 season against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Thursday's matchup from Nationwide Arena also finished off the home-and-home with the Lightning, who won Tuesday's affair, 4-1.
Looking to finish off things strong in front of the fifth line faithful for the last time this season, the Blue Jackets were shorthanded as Nick Blankenburg (upper body), Sean Kuraly (foot), Patrik Laine (upper body), and Zach Werenski (upper body) were all out with assorted ailments.
Jake Voracek, Cole Sillinger, Jack Roslovic, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Andrew Peeke all scored for the Blue Jackets. Elvis Merzlikins made 25 saves in the 5-2 win.
Nikita Kucherov and Corey Perry scored for the Lightning. Brian Elliott made 30 saves.
Season Series Wrap
The Lightning attempted to take the season series against the Blue Jackets in a clean sweep after winning the first two games by a cumulative score of 11-3. While the Lightning's first-round opponent was still to be decided as they entered play, they had basically all but wrapped everything up ahead of the playoffs.
A win would have just cemented the third seed in the Atlantic Division as the Lightning try to fend off the Boston Bruins, the East’s first wild card.
While a win doesn't do as much for the Blue Jackets at this point in the season, it's an opportunity for the team to test themselves against the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions and for the young players to prove themselves.
The Lightning had a goal taken off the board during the first period after a successful challenge for goaltender interference went the Blue Jackets' way.
NHL Situation Room: "Corey Perry had a significant presence in the crease which impaired the ability of Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins to play his position prior to Pat Maroons goal." #CBJ— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) April 28, 2022
At the 16:03 mark of the opening period, Voracek scored his sixth on a perfect feed from Kent Johnson. Johnson moved the puck out from behind Elliott's net and showed off the patience to find Voracek, who adds to his team lead in points with 60. Gabriel Carlsson picked up the assist and Johnson added his third assist and point of his career.
One of those plays that has to make you excited for Kent Johnson, right? Drew the defense, faked the shot and then found Voracek backdoor for the easy finish. And you could tell Johnson was excited. #CBJ— Jeff Svoboda (@JacketsInsider) April 28, 2022
With a 1-0 lead after 20 minutes and a 13-3 edge in face-offs for the Blue Jackets—35-21 for the night—you figured a push from the other side was coming.
Kucherov stayed hot with another goal on the power play. That continues an eight-game point streak (10 goals, 11 assists), and Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman each picked up assists.
32 seconds later, Sillinger's 16th of the season gave the Jackets another lead. Oliver Bjorkstand had the primary assist and Dean Kukan assisted.
15 seconds into the third period, Roslovic finally converted after a few missed chances earlier. It's his 22nd goal. Gus Nyquist and Jake Bean get the assist. Since Apr. 9 Roslovic has 13 points (10 goals, three assists).
Bjorkstrand has reawakened with a goal in three straight games and his 27th at 9:05 of the third. He has six points (three goals, three assists) in the last games. The play was unassisted.
Perry scored his 18th (Victor Hedman, Stamkos) on the power play, as Stamkos adds to his career-high 103 points.
Peekes' second of the year on the empty net sealed the victory. Both of his goals are empty-net goals this season. It was all enough as the Blue Jackets thwart a deadly attack and salvage one game in the three-game set, to go 1-2-0.
With five goals on the night, the Blue Jackets are one away from tying their franchise mark set in 2018-19 (256).
Elvis And The PK
You never want to give a team like the Lightning copious amounts of power play opportunities. The Lightning unit came in eighth in the league (23.5%) and 9-for-16 since Apr. 21st.
With seven more chances on the evening, the Blue Jackets were able to contain the powerful unit, limiting them to two conversions. Which were both Lightning tallies for the game, and more than the Jackets want to give up. But killing off five out of seven is pretty good once you're in that shorthanded situation.
Merzlikins had seven shorthanded saves through 40 minutes and 10 for the game, matching a season-high against the Calgary Flames in a 6-0 loss on Jan. 26.
Quite a statement when the team is missing Werenski, Blankenburg, Kuraly, and Laine. The Jackets were out-hit, 14-9, but had the edge in blocked shots, 11-8.
10:51, One Nice Assist
Johnson played 10:51 and that continues a theme of not skating deep throughout games. We've questioned Johnson's utilization into his brief NHL tenure, in terms of how Brad Larsen is deploying him and how much during games.
As Dan highlighted earlier this week, Larsen mentioned not having a problem with the young guys like Johnson struggle.
"You’re trying to put them in a position to succeed, and if it’s too much, you pull back," Larsen said. "But I have no problem seeing them struggle, either. Maybe they’ll thrive, who knows?"
And yet, he hasn't been granted a large enough leash to really be able to make mistakes.
There's certainly a case to be made for allowing young and inexperienced players to get their feet wet a little bit and not letting them totally sink under the pressure.
Yet, with only one game on the docket remaining, and so few to begin with when Johnson signed, what's the risk in taking the training wheels off and seeing what he's got?
We know what he's got. See assist above.
In the final regular-season game, the Blue Jackets battle the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night from PPG Paints Arena at 7:00 pm ET. Columbus is 0-3-0 in the season series.