With Game Three of the Columbus Blue Jackets vs Tampa Bay Lightning series wrapped up, the Lighting have taken a 2-1 series lead. After being swept in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Lightning have made appropriate changes for this series. The Lightning haven’t been relying exclusively on offence to win, and it’s working.
Joonas Korpisalo Keeping Blue Jackets in Series
The Goaltending Duel: Joonas Korpisalo vs Andrei Vasilevskiy
The biggest deal of the series is Blue Jackets starter Joonas Korpisalo. The Finnish goaltender has been excellent through three games thus far. With a 0.956 save percentage through three games, Korpisalo has been a major reason why the Lightning aren’t up 3-0 in the series. Even without rookie phenom Elvis Merzlikins, the Blue Jackets have been able to operate and wall out the Lightning in net.
Andrei Vasilevskiy on the other hand has struggled through Games 2 and 3. The Lightning have been able to survive Vasilevskiy’s poor play through keeping the Blue Jackets to a low shot count. While Joonas Korpisalo has emerged the star of this series, the Lightning won Game 3 despite Vasilevskiy allowing two goals on 17 shots. Columbus has had the true edge in goaltending, and Vasilevskiy will need to step it up moving forward for the Lightning.
Drivers of Offence
When discussing the series preview, Brayden Point was labelled as a key player for the series. Especially with Steven Stamkos being out. Through the first three games, Point has been unsurprisingly the key to most of their goals. With three goals and an assist, Point is leading the way with the Lightning’s offence. He has been a driving factor through this series and should continue to be. Against a team that is typically very defensive, having a player that is elite offensively and helping your team score is key. The Lightning should not rely exclusively on Point moving forward, however. The team is paying its depth a lot of money and will need them to start to step up.
Nikita Kucherov has also been very good for the Lightning, assisting the overtime winner in Game 1, scoring the lone goal in Game 2. He has been able to manage just a single goal but posted three assists. The Lightning should look to Kucherov to be scoring more, however, he is still involved in a lot of the offence the team generates. Currently being the highest-paid player on the team, it is to be expected that Kucherov does all this and much more. It has been an excellent change of pace from his 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff appearance, however.
The Blue Jackets are not known for their offence, however, Pierre-Luc Dubois has had similar production to that of Kucherov with one goal and three assists. The 3rd overall pick from 2016 has been able to generate offence this series. He has been involved in over half of Columbus’ goals in round one.
Oliver Bjorkstrand has been excellent for the Blue Jackets. While he has only posted two goals and no assists, he has generated high-quality chances for the team
The disappointments for the Lightning lie in their depth. Anyone that is making between 3 and 6 million dollars on the Lightning haven’t been able to perform. This includes Ondrej Palat, Yanni Gourde, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn and outside of Game 1, Vasilevskiy. These players are expensive depth for the team and have proved in the past they are capable of playing a successful style of game. These players have made it far into the playoffs before with the Lightning and need to start performing to go far again.
The Columbus Blue Jackets defence has been slightly disappointing so far this post-season. They have been hemmed in their zone a lot and have been bailed out by Korpisalo’s excellent goaltending. Allowing no fewer than 30 goals on net in any game. The Blue Jackets also allowed the Lightning to generate 10.68 xGF through three regulations. The Blue Jackets were one of the best defensive teams in the regular season. It seems they are letting that slip when up against the Lightning. Columbus needs to be able to get back to what made them so successful in the 2019-20 season and defend much better. If they can keep low-quality chances against, in tandem with Koorpisalo’s incredible efforts, they could threaten another upset.
Keys for Closing Out the Series
As previously stated, one of the keys for Columbus to win the series is to play excellent defence. This is something Columbus is extremely capable of and could threaten to wall out Tampa. While Columbus isn’t a strong offensive team, they still need their forwards to be able to contribute. They don’t need, nor are they expected to have an elite offence, but generating more shots would prove useful. Seeing players like Gustav Nyquist or Alexander Wennberg step up could be key. They cannot continue to just rely on Joonas Korpisalo to bail them out.
Tampa has been playing an excellent series so far. They can hold Columbus to very few shots and generate lots of high-quality chances of their own. The reason they are not up 3-0 is goaltending for both sides. The Lightning will need Vasliveskiy to look like the player he was in Game 1 and not the latter two. The Lightning also need their disappointing depth to step up. Getting scoring from players that aren’t your top guys is key for any playoff run. If the entire team can fire on all cylinders then there will be no stopping them.
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