In astronomical fashion, the Columbus Blue Jackets have defied the odds and beaten the Stanley Cup favorite Tampa Bay Lightning in a clean sweep 4-0.
Not only have the Columbus Blue Jackets secured a spot in the second round for the first time in franchise history, but they also knock out a Presidents Trophy winner in the first round. This has not happened since the Vancouver Canucks in the 2011-12 season.
The Blue Jackets success has shocked all, with Game 4 ending in a late 7-3 blowout.
Although an enjoyable underdog story, it’s time to end this first round with the series review. Let’s look at the three main topics as discussed before in the series preview.
The Power Of Three-Offensive Dominance
The Blue Jackets offensive game stepped up entering the playoffs. Artemi Panarin scoring two goals, three assists totaling five points, staying calm in the neutral zone and working hard on goal. Cam Atkinson collected two goals, two assists for four points. And lastly, Matt Duchene finally finding chemistry with his team achieved three goals and four assists totaling seven points. However, as is playoff hockey, it was not just down to these three players, everyone stepped up offensively. Pierre-Luc Dubois, who was pushed out slightly with the Duchene trade, but came back in Game 4 with two assists and a goal.
Controversially, Tampa’s top three heavily dominated offensively during the regular season but became dramatic underachievers in this series. Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point only achieved a goal apiece in four games. Nikita Kucherov, who led the league in points during the regular season, managed just two assists. Throughout the entire series, Tampa scored eight goals, with only two goals scored in Game 2 and three combined. Although Tampa outshot Columbus 117 to 108 they just couldn’t capitalize. The Blue Jackets physical play proved too effective for Tampa’s offensive. They just could not link up offensive-defensive play when needed.
The Russian Showdown
This series was always going to be determined by goaltending. And once the battle was done, Sergei Bobrovsky was crowned victorious. Despite the initial nervous start in Game 1, the experienced 30-year-old stayed strong and made key saves. Particularly in the last game when pressure was high and he faced 33 shots. His ability to stand strong in the crease gave him a 2.01 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. The Russian native currently sits tied for first with four wins along with New York Islanders Robin Lehner, who also caused an upset sweeping the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Although Andrei Vasilevskiy is a dominant force and a firm favorite for the Vezina Trophy, the 24-year-old, couldn’t survive the Blue Jackets intensity and 16 goals against. The fellow Russian goaltender finished with a 0-4 record for the playoffs. He had a disappointing .856 save percentage and a mediocre 3.82 goals against average. That made Vasilevskiy second from the bottom in the league for the series.
As mentioned in the series preview, Tampa came into the playoffs with the best powerplay in the league. Tampa was the most dangerous team to face on the powerplay. As evident in the statistics with Kucherov achieving (15), Stamkos (19) and Point with (20) power play goals. However, at the end of this series, roles were reversed as Tampa scored only one powerplay goal in six opportunities. The Blue Jackets physical game yet again prevailed.
Columbus is currently on top in the playoffs with their power play at 50.0% with five powerplay goals in 10 opportunities. Although Tampa is known to concede around nine minutes per game in penalty minutes during the regular season, it shows the President Trophy winners frustration in the playoffs. Something no team can afford to do.
In the end, Tampa Bay Lightning fell apart under increased physical pressure from Columbus. Although they showed their normal domination skills in parts of Game 1 and Game 4, it just was too little too late. Tampa made the all too familiar mistake of underestimating an opponent who has had to fight for a playoff spot. They became too complacent and Columbus destroyed them because of it. Columbus has always been a tricky team to beat in round one, the Metropolitan team is versatile and has the skill now that they lacked previously.
They will play either the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Boston Bruins in the next round. Both will be a tough test.