To term Monday afternoon's matchup with the Tampa Bay Lightning a must-win game for the Columbus Blue Jackets would qualify as a misnomer.
Technically, they could lose on Monday, then rebound to win three straight games and move on the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. But that wouldn't exactly put John Tortorella's group in a comfortable position. To avoid needing to pull off a three-game streak of victories, it needs to even out the seven-game series at two wins apiece in Game 4, which will begin at 3 p.m. in a spectator-free Scotiabank Arena.
|TBL 2, COL 1 • FIRST ROUND|
|TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING|
43–21–6 (92 points)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
3 P.M. – MONDAY, AUG. 15
FOX SPORTS OHIO, NBCSN
FOX SPORTS GO
The pressure-packed matchup follows Columbus dropping Game 3, losing 3-2 after playing what Tortorella described as possibly the team's best 11 or 12 minutes of hockey of the series followed by an abysmal offensive showing the next 48 minutes. The Blue Jackets started the game with a 9-2 shots-on-goal advantage, spurred by two power plays – including a 5-on-3 chance – before then allowing Tampa Bay to take 32 of the game's final 40 shots.
“We didn't play our best hockey, but we're not going to sit here – I don't really want to talk about last game,” Seth Jones said on Sunday. “I want to talk about how we can be better moving forward and we can win a hockey game tomorrow. The most important game of the season tomorrow. We want to be the best we can be. I don't want to sit here and talk about what-ifs from last game.”
If both the offense and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo can get into a groove for 60 minutes of regulation hockey, the Blue Jackets will be in business. That, however, has been an inconsistent combination, leading to the trend of Columbus never winning nor losing back-to-back games yet this postseason.
|1||TUE, AUG. 11, 2020||TBL 3, COL 2 (5OT) // GAME HIGHLIGHTS|
|2||THU, AUG. 13, 2020||COL 3, TBL 1 // GAME HIGHLIGHTS|
|3||SAT, AUG. 15, 2020||TBL 3, COL 2 // GAME HIGHLIGHTS|
|4||MON, AUG. 17, 2020||TBD|
|5||WED, AUG. 19, 2020||TBD|
|6||FRI, AUG. 21, 2020||TBD|
|7||SAT, AUG. 22, 2020||TBD|
Korpisalo leads NHL goaltenders who have played more than two postseason games with a save rate of 95.6, including a pair of shutouts. But scoring has been a constant issue. Columbus has been out-shot by 10.9 shots per game – the second-worst mark in the postseason – and hasn't exactly made getting clean scoring chances look easy.
Complicating matters, of course, is the Blue Jackets hitting a physical and mental wall, per Tortorella, on Saturday. If they play a seven-game series, they'll be in action in four of the next six days – not that Tortorella cares.
“I don't even know what the schedule is,” Tortorella said. “I know the next game's at 3 o'clock. I know we have a 1:10 meeting, a 1:30 meeting and a 3 o'clock game. That's as far as my mind can go.”
That's fair, even if it's a reality Columbus faces. For now, all that matters is coming out of Monday victorious.
“When it's a group of men that looked, and to me it's not physically tired (but) mentally tired and some mental mistakes, that's when I have to start thinking maybe we hit a wall there. That's why we canceled practice today. Trying to refresh ourselves to play the next game.”– John Tortorella on Sunday
Columbus Blue Jackets Projected Lines
|42||ALEXANDRE TEXIER||18||PIERRE-LUC DUBOIS||13||CAM ATKINSON|
|19||LIAM FOUDY||20||RILEY NASH||28||OLIVER BJORKSTRAND|
|14||GUSTAV NYQUIST||38||BOONE JENNER||71||NICK FOLIGNO|
|50||ERIC ROBINSON||10||ALEXANDER WENNBERG||24||NATHAN GERBE|
|8||ZACH WERENSKI||3||SETH JONES|
|44||VLADISLAV GAVRIKOV||58||DAVID SAVARD|
|27||RYAN MURRAY||14||DEAN KUKAN|
|70||JOONAS KORPISALO||90||ELVIS MERZLIKINS|
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
|18||ONDREJ PALAT||21||BRAYDEN POINT||86||NIKITA KUCHEROV|
|17||ALEX KILLORN||71||ANTHONY CIRELLI||9||TYLER JOHNSON|
|19||BARCLAY GOODROW||37||YANNI GOURDE||20||BLAKE COLEMAN|
|14||PATRICK MAROON||67||MITCHELL STEPHENS||13||CEDRIC PAQUETTE|
|77||VICTOR HEDMAN||44||JAN RUTTA|
|27||RYAN MCDONAGH||81||ERIK CERNAK|
|98||MIKHAIL SERGACHEV||22||KEVIN SHATTENKIRK|
|88||ANDREI VASILEVSKIY||35||CURTIS MCELHINNEY|
- Avoiding the 3-1 hole: The Blue Jackets haven't won back-to-back games yet this postseason. If they drop Monday's game, they'll have to win three straight to avoid elimination. In other words, good luck, but start planning the departure from the bubble. Comparably, a 2-1 hole isn't anything to overlook even though Columbus remains one game from tying the series at two games apiece. A loss in Game 4 would qualify as a disastrous scenario for anyone hoping to see the Blue Jackets move on. They haven't won two playoff series in one year in franchise history, and in order to do so, winning on Monday will be important.
- Power-play time: Is it finally time for Columbus to come through on power plays? Nobody in their right mind would have expected the Blue Jackets to rank among the NHL's best with a one-man advantage on the ice in the postseason after scoring on only 16.4 percent of their power plays in the regular season. But they somehow got worse. Significantly worse. Columbus has had 26 power-play opportunities, and it has scored twice and allowed one short-handed goal. The 7.7 percent postseason power-play scoring rate put the team ahead of just the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. At some point, the Blue Jackets have to break through, or their power-play issues will be a major problem.
- Again up to Korpi: Objectively, there's too much pressure is on the shoulders of Joonas Korpisalo. The Blue Jackets have relied far too much on one player to keep them in games. But that's not changing anytime soon. Korpisalo has to continue to be a wall on the back end for Columbus, allowing an inconsistent offense to find opportunities and score without finding itself in a hole. The first-year playoff starter has stopped 95.6 percent of the 273 shots that have come his way across seven postseason games. He finally looked mortal again on Saturday, giving up three goals in Game 3 after nearly single-handedly keeping the Blue Jackets in Game 1 with 85 saves and allowing a single goal in Game 2.