As much as Columbus Blue Jackets fans might not want to hear it, they could easily be leading this first-round series.
All three losses to the Tampa Bay Lightning that have them in a 3-1 series hole came in the form of winnable games. Columbus opened the series by dropping a five-overtime game during which goaltender Joonas Korpisalo set the modern NHL record with 85 saves. Two games later, Emil Bemstrom missed a wide-open shot that could've given a dose of momentum to the Blue Jackets who proceeded to lose by one. A couple of days later, Columbus played arguably its best all-around game of the series and came out on the wrong side, losing by a one-goal deficit for the third time in the series.
|TBL 3, COL 1 • FIRST ROUND|
|TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING|
43–21–6 (92 points)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
12 P.M. – WEDNESDAY, AUG. 19
FOX SPORTS OHIO, NBCSN
FOX SPORTS GO
Instead of possibly leading the series or having it knotted at two wins apiece, the Blue Jackets enter Game 5 of the series needing three straight wins to avoid elimination. The first “do or die” game – as Cam Atkinson called it – of the series will begin at noon on Wednesday.
“It's one game, an opportunity to win one game, and I think we're excited about that challenge and know we've obviously put ourselves in a little bit of a hole,” Nick Foligno said on Tuesday. “But if there's one thing I've talked about since the start of this playoffs is that there's a belief in this room. There's an understanding of us as players and the trust in that locker room. I just see it growing even more. Excited to put that to the forefront tomorrow against a really good team and continue to play the way we have and just try to execute and finish on some scoring chances.”
Those scoring chances, which Foligno referenced, will be key.
|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||TBL 2, COL 1 // GAME HIGHLIGHTS|
|5||WED, AUG. 19, 2020||TBD|
|6||FRI, AUG. 21, 2020||TBD|
|7||SAT, AUG. 22, 2020||TBD|
Again and again, the Blue Jackets have had issues scoring, especially including in tight games when they've needed goals – hence the three one-goal losses. After five games with double-digit shot-on-goal deficits, Columbus finally outshot a postseason opponent, but it couldn't find the net more than once.
With everything on the line in Game 5, the Blue Jackets have to garnish Korpisalo's fine work in the net with some offense.
“Obviously, of late, we need to find a way to help on the scoreboard,” Foligno said. “But you can't put added pressure on yourself. I think we know what we bring as a veteran core group and just have to play to that and believe in what makes us good and successful as a team and as players and go out and execute that tomorrow.”
Perhaps Columbus has already exceeded expectations. But the Blue Jackets will do everything in their power to ensure it doesn't end at Scotiabank Arena on Wednesday.
“That's all we're thinking about is getting ready for our big game tomorrow, feeling good today and enjoying it then stepping on the ice come noon.”– Nick Foligno on Tuesday
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|
- Who can score?: No matter how many times this question gets asked, there's not an obvious answer. From game to game, Columbus hasn't yet found a reliable goal-scorer or two who can be counted on to come through when the team has needed someone to step up. Rather, the Blue Jackets' goals have come from a host of different players at seemingly random moments. No one has more than four goals across the nine postseason games, yet 13 different players have scored at least one of their team's 20 goals. Good luck trying to predict who will come through on Wednesday – or if someone will – because that's been remarkably inconsistent thus far.
- Stand on your head, Korpi: More often than not in the postseason, due to their lack of offensive firepower, the Blue Jackets have called upon Joonas Korpisalo to keep them in games. And, for the most part, he has. Korpisalo ranks fourth this postseason with a 0.953 save percentage, which includes a pair of shutouts of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He's looked more human ever since the record-breaking 85-save performance in Game 1 of the first-round series, but he's still been steady. Again, Korpisalo will need to keep the Blue Jackets in the game on Wednesday, allowing for their up-and-down scorers to take their time.
- Special teams: Columbus has somehow managed to be arguably the best penalty-kill team in the postseason, allowing a goal on just 2-of-23 opposing power plays, while also being possibly the worst power-play team still playing, scoring on 2-of-28 power plays. Their success with killing penalties and total failure to score on power plays have been their biggest constant of the entire postseason, and it's worth paying attention to whether both trends will remain in place for Game 5 – and, if the Blue Jackets win, beyond.