It's not often that John Tortorella seems relieved.
But after Saturday's 6-2 win over the Ottawa Senators, the Blue Jackets' head coach certainly looked like a man thrilled to put the last 82 games in the rear-view mirror.
There have been challenges: Artemi Panarin's contract situation. Sergei Bobrovsky's contract situation, and then later, his suspension after essentially walking out on his teammates during a lopsided loss to their upcoming Stanley Cup playoffs opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
And then, there was plenty of excitement: a strong start to the year, the emergence of key players like Pierre-Luc Dubois as a top center and Josh Anderson as a true power forward, and the trade deadline additions of Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid and Keith Kinkaid.
Columbus packed a hell of a lot into the 2018-19 regular season and still managed to get into the playoffs for a third straight year–which is no small feat. They now face a challenge unlike any they've seen previously; first-round exits to the Pittsburgh Penguins have been dissected, as well as a four-game collapse to the Washington Capitals last spring.
In the Lightning, the Blue Jackets have to make fundamental changes in the way they play in order to have a chance. They need everything firing on all cylinders, and a list of about 15 items to be checked off on a nightly basis to hang with one of the best regular-season teams in NHL history–but it's not impossible.
Tortorella offered a great sound bite after Saturday's game, asked if he thinks his team is game for what is easily the most daunting first-round matchup in the NHL.
The series begins Wednesday night at Amalie Arena, a 7 p.m. ET puck drop that will be broadcast on FOX Sports Ohio, the USA Network, and streamed via NBC Sports and FOX Sports Go. View the complete first-round schedule here.
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