Game 1 Preview: Blue Jackets Seek a Fast Start Against the High-Flying Lightning

By Rob Mixer on April 10, 2019 at 7:05 am
Columbus Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson collides with Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh during a game at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida.

Douglas DeFelice – USA TODAY Sports

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Well, here goes nothing.

0–0, EASTERN CONFERENCE QTRS
Pittsburgh
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
62–16–4 (128 points)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE

7 P.M. – WEDNESDAY, APRIL 10
AMALIE ARENA
TAMPA, FLA.

FOX SPORTS OHIO, USA NETWORK
FOX SPORTS GO

That's probably oversimplifying things for the Blue Jackets. They're massive underdogs in this opening round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, who amassed 62 wins and 128 points during the 2018-19 regular season.

For context: the Blue Jackets' 47 wins were the second-most in franchise history, but still 15 wins shy of Tampa Bay's ridiculous campaign. But now, the slate is wiped clean for both teams; all that matters is what happens when the puck drops tonight at Amalie Arena in the first game of a best-of-seven series between two teams that play quite different styles.

And if you're the Blue Jackets, you'll want to make sure your style of play is the oil to the Lightning's water.

Here's what we mean: the Blue Jackets can ill afford to get into a "track meet" game with the Lightning, who have no issue trading chances with the likes of Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and others leading the charge up front. You want to take a chance? No problem, the Lightning will be glad to counter.

That's how Columbus can run into a fast-developing mess and a quick death in Game 1 – when they need the exact opposite to happen. Look no further than their three-game season series against the Lightning; Tampa Bay ran the Blue Jackets out of the rink in October with an eight-goal outburst, then out-lasted them in two subsequent meetings (0–3–0).

Regular Season Results
Date Result
10/13/18 TBL 8, CBJ 2 // HIGHLIGHTS
01/08/19 TBL 4, CBJ 0 // HIGHLIGHTS
02/18/19 TBL 5, CBJ 1 // HIGHLIGHTS

It's a tough hill to climb if the Blue Jackets are to shed their previous postseason disappointments and advance for the first time in franchise history, because it's difficult to overstate how consistently good (and, at times, dominant) the Lightning have been this season. But if there's something for Columbus to build on, it's the consistent level of play brought into these Stanley Cup Playoffs, which included a five-game winning streak and 7–1–0 record in the final eight games to secure a spot.

“We're ready for the challenge. We've faced the adversity and got through it. We had a strong finish in the regular season. We have a good team. We believe in it.”– Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen

Columbus Blue Jackets Projected Lines

LW C RW
9 ARTEMI PANARIN 18 PIERRE-LUC DuBOIS 13 CAM ATKINSON
19 RYAN DZINGEL 95 MATT DUCHENE 77 JOSH ANDERSON
42 ALEXANDRE TEXIER 71 NICK FOLIGNO 28 OLIVER BJORKSTRAND
17 BRANDON DUBINSKY 38 BOONE JENNER 20 RILEY NASH
LD RD
8 ZACH WERENSKI 3 SETH JONES
65 MARKUS NUTIVAARA 58 DAVID SAVARD
4 SCOTT HARRINGTON 14 DEAN KUKAN
Goalie Backup
72 SERGEI BOBROVSKY 70 JOONAS KORPISALO

Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines

LW C RW
19 ONDREJ PALAT 91 STEVEN STAMKOS 9 TYLER JOHNSON
37 YANNI GOURDE 21 BRAYDEN POINT 86 NIKITA KUCHEROV
17 ALEX KILLORN 71 ANTHONY CIRELLI 10 J.T. MILLER
73 ADAM ERNE 13 CEDRIC PAQUETTE 7 MATHIEU JOSEPH
LD RD
77 VICTOR HEDMAN 5 DAN GIRARDI
27 RYAN McDONAGH 81 ERIK CERNAK
98 MIKHAIL SERGACHEV 44 JAN RUTTA
Goalie Backup
88 ANDREI VASILEVSKIY 70 LOUIS DOMINGUE

Storylines

  • Starting fast. If the Blue Jackets find themselves playing from behind in Game 1, they're already in trouble. The Lightning play well with the lead and they're able to add to it in the blink of an eye, so scoring first and settling into the game are crucial to get this series started with a good vibe. 
  • No deviation. The game plan must change slightly for John Tortorella and his team – they have to be smarter with the puck, commit to winning battles deep in the offensive zone, and making the Lightning skate for their chances. If this game opens up and the Blue Jackets get loose, it won't end well.
  • Grand Theft Tampa. Listen, it's not going to go perfectly and it might start badly. The key here is to stay level-headed, fight through the tough shifts and the bad breaks (and those are going to happen), and F-A-W in this game. Managing a Game 1 win would add one of those layers that Tortorella talks about, and give the Blue Jackets some swagger going into Friday's Game 2.

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