Momentarily on Monday afternoon, it seemed as though the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning might be running back their game from two days prior.
The Blue Jackets jumped out to an 8-2 shot advantage – they had a 9-2 edge in shots to begin Saturday’s game – but then, instead of subsequently losing control of the game the same way they had done 48 hours prior, the fourth game of the first-round Stanley Cup playoff series remained scoreless when the first period ended. Even better for Columbus? It was out-shooting the Lightning, which it hadn’t done yet in the series.
But those positive vibes didn’t last.
Tampa Bay’s Barclay Goodrow scored the first goal of the game just 16 seconds into the second period, and Yanni Gourde followed up less than four minutes later to put the Blue Jackets in a two-goal hole. Columbus managed to cut the lead to one when a Cam Atkinson shot got by Andrei Vasilevskiy shortly thereafter, but John Tortorella’s group went scoreless the final 34 minutes for a 2-1 loss.
Arguably, with the first shots-on-goal advantage in the past six games and only two goals given up, it was the best all-around game the Blue Jackets have played this series. Goaltender Joonas Korpisalo certainly agrees with such a characterization.
“I think we played a great game, a high-energy game throughout the 60 minutes,” Korpisalo said. “I think that was our most complete game thus far in this series. Didn't give them too much.”
Cam Atkinson bought into that idea, too.
“I thought we did some pretty good things,” Atkinson said. “You can see the puck's bouncing like crazy on a lot of plays. Overall, I thought we played a pretty solid game.”
But it was still a losing effort.
Understandably, it didn’t sit well with everybody on the Columbus side. Monday’s result marked the third one-loss game in the series, which the Lightning now lead, 3-1. Two of those losses include possibly the Blue Jackets’ best performance of the series (Game 4) and a five-overtime loss during which Korpisalo set the modern-day NHL record with 85 saves (Game 1).
Tortorella, with Columbus now needing three wins in a row to move on to the second round and avoid elimination, implored his team to hang in there.
“We can't get frustrated. We're still in the series,” Tortorella said. “We improved in that area, improved in our forechecking. We've just got to get ready for our next game. We need to make a couple more big offense plays, score some goals. There's no sense of being frustrated. We just get ready for our next game.”
Wallowing on past mistakes does nothing for a team trying to move forward, as Tortorella noted. Of course, he’s right. Those thoughts won’t alter future results in an optimal way.
But that’s easier said than done. Only minutes before he spoke, a couple of his players expressed a twinge of the irritation he said they can’t afford to let fester.
“As long as you're getting chances, you're doing something right,” Pierre-Luc Dubois said. “Obviously you get chances and you're not scoring, you're losing games. It's a little frustrating. But I think if you keep getting chances, if you keep getting pucks to the net like Cam said, I like our odds to get a couple more goals.”
Zach Werenski added: “I think when you kind of don't score for a while, things start to get a little frustrating, but we know we're capable of it. So we're just going to continue to (play) the game and goals will come.”
The frustration set in early on Monday, with a goal from Oliver Bjorkstrand getting called back due to an offsides penalty that was called following a review of the film from the officials. While the moment could’ve derailed a team, as it did on Saturday when Emil Bemstrom missed a wide-open net during a 5-on-3 scoring opportunity, the Blue Jackets maintained their energy levels and physical play.
However, there are no guarantees in hockey as the Blue Jackets were reminded the hard way. They had a 29-22 edge in shots on goal and a 30-12 edge in faceoff wins, but they managed just a single goal scored.
“It's definitely tough, especially with how we started: A great shift, get a goal, it gets taken back,” Werenski said. “I think we still had good shifts after that. Their goalie makes some saves.”
Had Bjorkstrand’s goal counted, maybe the entire complexion of the game would’ve been altered. If a puck could’ve bounced Columbus’ way for a second goal, maybe Tortorella’s team could’ve taken it strong play into overtime and scored another after regulation ended.
Neither of those things happened, though, and the Blue Jackets will head into what Atkinson described as a “do-or-die” Game 5 at noon on Wednesday facing the prospect of elimination.
“You don't look too far ahead,” Tortorella said. “I love our team. I like the way they have handled themselves through the whole time out here in the bubble. Certainly, we've got some work to do, but we've just got to look to tomorrow and then we get ready for our next game – I think it's noon on Wednesday – and just get about our business.
“That's all you can do.”