John Tortorella distilled his Tuesday evening post-game message to the Columbus Blue Jackets into 11 simple words when speaking virtually to reporters.
“Get some rest and get ready to play the next game.”
Ahhh, if it were only that simple.
What went down at Scotiabank Arena can’t simply be explained in 11 words. Not after Game 1 of the Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning’s first-round series was the equivalent of playing two-and-a-half games. Not when it took five overtimes for Tampa Bay to finally hand Columbus a 3-2 loss.
Tuesday night’s game was nothing less than a historically long tilt between two remarkably evenly matched teams, each featuring goaltenders that made 60 or more saves to keep their teams in it longer than almost any other time in league history.
Every post-game statistic is more incredible than the last.
- This was the fourth-longest game in the history of the NHL
- The teams combined for 151 total shots, which is the most ever in the playoffs
- Joonas Korpisalo smashed the previous modern-day NHL record of 73 saves by recording 85 saves
- Seth Jones broke the NHL single-game record by spending 65:06 on the ice
- Not including Joonas Korpisalo, the Blue Jackets had 11 skaters on the ice for at least 38:21, which was previously the franchise’s playoff single-game high of time on the ice
- Including the two overtime games against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Columbus has played the equivalent of eight games in the past nine days
Those go on and on, highlighting the absurdities of the action that took place on the ice in Toronto.
Seven times, the Blue Jackets and Lightning headed to their respective locker rooms only to return to the ice to continue an ultramarathon of a game between two teams unwilling to give in. During the breaks in the action, players and coaches alike fueled up. To Tortorella, they had to be treated as though they weren’t abnormal in the slightest. Those eating up time on the ice chowed on bananas and power bars, putting down electrolyte packages while gulping down water and Gatorade.
The way Jones put it, there were only two qualifiers food and drink needed to meet in order to get consumed by Blue Jackets players:
- Something that wouldn’t “completely” fill them up.
- Something that would give them energy in the form of carbohydrates, potassium and sugar to “kind of get you over the hump.”
Pierre-Luc Dubois, for example, had only eaten one meal before the game, and it came around 9 a.m. The game began at 3 p.m., and it didn’t conclude until 9:22 p.m.
As Dubois talked to the media, explaining when he had last eaten something that wasn’t a snack, it was already 9:30 p.m. He’d gone well over half of a day without a meal despite playing nearly 44 minutes.
“I've never been a part of a game this long,” Dubois said.
Of course, he’s not alone. Jones accurately guessed that the majority of his teammates had set personal-highs in terms of time on the ice. Zach Werenski joined him in the 60-minute club, and David Savard and Nick Foligno each cracked 50 minutes.
All of them played a role in the events of Tuesday night, seeing up close the devastating defeat.
“That's hockey,” said Oliver Bjorkstrand, who played 37:42. “You're going to lose games. This was just a long OT game we lost. It's no different. We've just got to bounce back and be ready for next game. We will, so it's all good.”
Early on, it didn’t seem as though goals would be quite so difficult to come by.
Dubois got Columbus on the scoreboard first less than three minutes into the game, with Alexander Texier knocking a shot off of his teammate glove to send the puck into the back of the net. The goal ended the Blue Jackets’ scoreless streak on power plays, which extended throughout the entirety of the Stanley Cup Qualifying series.
Just a few minutes later, Brayden Point angled the puck through Korpisalo’s legs to knot the game up at one goal apiece.
Bjorkstrand added his first goal of the postseason, scoring in the final minute of the second period to give the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead. In the first minute of the third period, though, Yanni Gourde scored his first goal of the game to tie it at two.
Thus kicked off a scoreless stretch that lasted the majority of the third period, four total overtime periods and more than half of the fifth overtime.
“There's no conserving energy,” Jones said, noting that he felt “fine” despite a hefty workload. “We have to find a way to play with energy every shift. That's why we go through the conditioning we go through in camp. We put our bodies in a position for things like this and take it to levels of this extreme.”
As Columbus looked for opportunities to sneak a third puck past goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, ultimately failing to do so, Korpisalo kept his team in the game.
A 26-year-old All-Star in his fifth career playoffs start and first season as a starter, he didn’t wilt as the overtimes mounted. Rather, it seemed impossible to sneak a shot past him. Korpisalo said he wasn’t “thinking too much.” By the second overtime, he broke the franchise record for most saves in a single game, broaching the 50s. In the fourth overtime, he set a new modern record for saves, reaching the 70s.
Into the fifth overtime, anything seemed within reason. The all-time record of 93 saves set in the 1930s? A 100-save game? Ruling anything out would have seemingly been a mistake.
Not until the 11th minute of the fifth overtime did Tampa Bay finally find a way to score, with Point ending the game on his second goal of what went from an afternoon to a late evening showdown.
“We’d like to finish it off earlier, but we’re going to keep going,” Bjorkstrand said. “Now we just have to be ready for the next game, and I know we will be ready. We've just got to keep going.”
Perhaps the most important lesson learned from the five-game series with the Maple Leafs was how quickly things can change between games and how rapidly teams bounce back.
Columbus, after enduring a five-overtime loss, will put that theory to the test when it returns to the ice on Thursday.