Columbus Blue Jackets vs Tampa Bay Lightning First Round Preview

Columbus Blue Jackets vs Tampa Bay Lightning

The first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is about to begin. After lots of upsets in the qualifying rounds, the Columbus Blue Jackets will meet the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second year in a row. After causing a major first-round upset in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Blue Jackets are hoping to repeat. The Columbus Blue Jackets vs Tampa Bay Lightning should shape up to be an intriguing series. With the storyline of potential redemption for the Lightning and the Blue Jackets looking to prove 2019 wasn’t a fluke.

Columbus Blue Jackets vs Tampa Bay Lightning

Team Matchup

This series is similar to the Columbus Blue Jackets vs Toronto Maple Leafs qualifier. The Lightning have a high scoring offence and the Blue Jackets typically allow very few high-quality chances against as well as having some extraordinary goaltending. Despite their strength in the regular season, the Blue Jackets allowed some high-quality chances against and had to be bailed out by their goaltender multiple times. They will have to tighten up their defence in order to compete with a much stronger quality team.

The match up leans much more in Tampa’s favour than it did the Leafs, despite the similarities. The Lightning were also one of the best teams defensively at 5v5. Only three teams had a lower 5v5 expected goals against per 60. One of those teams was the Blue Jackets. The fact that they are strong defensively as well could prove to be an issue for Columbus. If Tampa gets a one-goal lead, they are just as equipped to defend it as the Blue Jackets are, and the Lightning should have an easier time given that their offence is clearly superior on paper.

Both teams have had excellent goaltending. Tampa with Andrei Vasilevskiy and Columbus with Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. Both teams’ goaltenders were fantastic in the regular season, however, in the post-season, the Blue Jackets have received far superior goaltending in a limited sample.

Charts from Evolving-Hockey.com

The goaltenders both had considerable help from their teams this regular season that helped them attain their good save percentage. If one of the Lightning or Blue Jackets can’t provide that same support, it could be a huge opportunity for their opponent.

Injuries

There have been some major injuries on both sides. Currently, the Blue Jackets will be down Elvis Merzlikins. Merzlikins tapped in for Korpisalo after the Blue Jackets had allowed three goals in Game 3 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and didn’t allow a single goal that game. After starting Game 4 it was announced that Merzlikins was out prior to Game 5. As a result, it seems the Blue Jackets are forced to start Korpisalo to begin the series. Merzlikins emerged as a strong goaltender for the Blue Jackets and even though it was likely Korpisalo got the start after his strong game 5, having a great backup is a good thing to have going into the playoffs.

Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman could be out to begin the series as well. These are two key pieces to the Lightning team. With the captain and assistant captain out, the Lightning will need to look at their high salary depth to step up. Taking out one of any team’s top defenceman and top forwards would hurt them. Thankfully for the Lightning, they have an incredibly talented roster that could fill the holes that these two players leave. Their absence will surely be felt, but Tampa is well equipped to deal with it.

Key Players

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning should continue to look to Ryan McDonagh to be the force he was on the blue line this season. Potentially without Hedman, McDonagh will need to be the number one defenceman on that roster. Being a number defenceman for Tampa won’t be difficult for McDonagh because he was arguably their best defenceman this season. The difficulty will be the fact that he is the only one in Tampa. Should he have an off game, there is no Hedman to lean on.

The Lightning will need to lean on their other strong forwards should Stamkos continue to remain out. They should look to both Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point this series to maintain their offensive threat. Kucherov had a lacklustre Stanley Cup Playoffs last season when Columbus swept Tampa. He will hopefully be looking to redeem himself and get the Lightning the win everyone knows they’re capable of.

Columbus Blue Jackets

With Elvis Merzlinkins out injured, the Blue Jackets will need Joonas Korpisalo to continue to stand on his head. He was able to do just that for the qualifying round and he’ll need to do it again. Korpisalo relied heavily on a strong defensive team this regular season, but he needs to replicate what he did in the qualifying round for Columbus to have a chance.

Gustav Nyquist was one of the best offensive players this season for Columbus, and if he is able to generate offence this series for a team that desperately needs it in order to win, he could be one of the key players in the Columbus Blue Jackets vs Tampa Bay Lightning series.

Similar to Nyquist, Oliver Bjorkstrand is one of the better offensive talents on a team that severely lacks that. If Bjorkstrand is able to maintain the 59.16 xGF% he had in the first series, he could surely be a threat to the Lightning.

It is sure to be an eventful series with the, albeit short, history these two teams have. One team will look for redemption, the other will look to defend their place in the playoffs.

Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images


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