Coverage of this Stanley Cup first round series between the President Trophy winners the Tampa Bay Lightning and Colombus Blue Jackets has been extensive. Columbus, who battled to make the second spot, is one game away from sweeping the dominant Stanley Cup favourites in round one. However, as highlighted in the series preview, Columbus was never going to make it easy. But a shocking result regardless. The Tampa Bay Lightning Playoffs are in danger of being over much quicker than expected.
Tampa Bay Lightning Playoffs Hanging By a Thread
Columbus’ pressure continues from the first matchup where Tampa lost a 3-0 lead to dramatically lose, 4-3. Since then, Tampa has failed to score more than two goals in the last two playoff games (Mikhail Sergachev and Ondrej Palat). Based on offensive performance so far, it’s unlikely to change. However, Tampa will aim to do just that on the road Tuesday night.
Until then, let us look at the main issue apparent in these three games.
Disappearance of Offense
Tampa’s three main offensive stars were key to Tampa’s success during the season. But are virtually nonexistent in the first three games of this series. Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point failing to register a single point. Using Columbus’s offense stars as a comparison is a good example of how much the President’s Trophy winners are struggling to score. With Matt Duchene ranking fourth for points so far (five) and Artemi Panarin ranked eighth (four). Those are fairly standard numbers for players that have less than 20 playoff games experience. Unlike Stamkos who has 68 playoff games.
The loss of Nikita Kucherov due to suspension in Game 3 did not aid this offensive problem. As frustration led the league points leader to lash out after tripping call, causing a dangerous hit towards Mikhail Sergachev. For Kucherov, who has never been suspended before, to lose his cool is a true testament to Columbus disruptive play on Tampa’s offensive style. Tampa’s leading scorer was sorely missed in Game three where the possession was primarily for Columbus. It put added pressure on an already frustrated offense.
Not only have Tampa struggled to score, but they also have spent very little productive time in the offensive zone. Although outshooting Columbus in two of three games, just couldn’t capitalize. And their power play which was the best in the league in the regular season failed to impact by going scoreless in five chances.
Columbus Physical Dominance.
One of the main reasons for this is Columbus’ physical presence. Breaking up Tampa’s smooth play and targeting skilled players. Tampa is known to struggle with this physicality, as seenagainst the Washington Capitals in the last season’s playoffs. Although Game 3 saw Tampa Bay increasing hits, giving the Florida-based team 122 hits to Columbus 87 on paper overall. The disruption to Tampa’s play was too great in reality. Tampa could not find a rhythm and struggled to link up play without Kucherov.
Sergei Bobrovsky Recovered
This series was always going to be determined by goaltending. The odds leaned on Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy. But after a concerning first period in Game 1, where Sergei Bobrovsky looked visibly nervous, the 30-year-old has not faltered since. Achieving a .940 save percentage and 1.67 goals against average, he is top of the playoff league for these three games. Considering the stats show Tampa outshot and now outhit Columbus, it’s valid to assume that Bobrovsky hot streak is a huge factor in Tampa’s offensive progress.
Vasilevskiy is suffering the consequence of Tampa’s initial overconfidence and lack of continuity in play with a.886 save percentage and 3.73 GAA. A current playoff career worst for the 24-year-old.
Although there are still games to be played, Tampa Bay’s easy run through the season and into the playoffs have led them to underestimate their opponent. It is now a last-ditch effort to come back and avoid a disastrous opening round exit. Tampa will have to counteract the Columbus strategy by continuing to adapt to a more physical opponent and mix things up. But mostly they will have to pick up the intensity and want to win. Either way, win or the team will have to seriously assess what has gone wrong during the off-season.
COLUMBUS, OH – APRIL 14: Josh Anderson #77 of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Erik Cernak #81 of the Tampa Bay Lightning chase after a loose puck during the second period of Game Three of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 14, 2019 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)