Fresh off an upset over Toronto in the qualifying round, the Columbus Blue Jackets now match up against a Lightning team they swept aside in last year’s playoffs. Sure, Columbus lost a handful of free agents, including stars Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, but they find success in team buy-in rather than individual performances. In fact, these Blue Jackets may even be better.
Tampa Bay will be looking for revenge, but may have to do it without a couple star players of their own, with injuries to Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos looming large. But there’s still a lot of difference makers here and the Lightning acquired more depth and muscle in the off-season and at the deadline to be better prepared for an opponent like Columbus. Now they get a chance to show they made the right choices.
Here is a look at the Columbus-Tampa Bay series.
Regular season 5-on-5 numbers via Natural Stat Trick (with league rank)
Columbus: 49.11 CF% (20th), 50.61 GF% (15th), 92.81 SV% (5th), 6.80 SH% (28th), 0.996 PDO (21st)
Tampa Bay: 52.25 CF% (5th), 57.04 GF% (3rd), 92.53 SV% (7th), 9.71 SH% (1st), 1.022 PDO (2nd)
REGULAR SEASON TEAM STATS
Columbus: 16.4 PP% (27th), 81.7 PK% (12th), 180 GF (28th), 183 GA (3rd)
Tampa Bay: 23.1 PP% (5th), 81.4 PK% (14th), 243 GF (1st), 194 GA (10th)
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
Tampa Bay: 1-0-0
The story of the qualifying round:
Columbus did to the Toronto Maple Leafs exactly what they did to Tampa Bay in the first round of the 2019 playoffs: frustrate the offensive stars, prevent chances to the middle of the ice and backed up solid goaltending. And now John Tortorella’s team finds itself against a very familiar foe.
The Blue Jackets matched up against the second-best offence from the regular season in the qualifying round and twice shut out the Maple Leafs. They’re not built to out-chance or out-Corsi teams — that’s not a defining factor Columbus needs to win. The Blue Jackets will give you the outside of the ice and perimeter shots are not an issue for them. But good luck getting inside.
Seth Jones and Zach Werenski stole the show in qualifying, but Pierre-Luc Dubois was a hugely influential player as was Cam Atkinson. Rookies Alexandre Texier and Liam Foudy also showed well. The Blue Jackets confidently use two goalies and have more depth than you realize, and completely buy in to Tortorella.
And, now, they match up against the regular season’s best offence in a rematch of last year’s Round 1.
The Lightning did not quite look the team that often dominated in the regular season. They needed a shootout to beat Washington and a late goal to squeak by the struggling Bruins before losing to the Flyers.
Tampa led the league with 243 goals in the regular season. That’s 3.47 goals per game, yet they only managed to score seven times in the round-robin. The Brayden Point–Nikita Kucherov line looked good per usual, which is reassuring.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of the qualifying round occurred midway through the opening period against the Flyers when Hedman went down with an ankle injury. The Norris finalist does everything well in both ends. Not having him is a huge blow to the Lightning. Jan Rutta is also out so their defensive depth will be put to the test.
Stamkos missed all three round-robin games as well, and it’s not clear if he will be ready for this series.
Columbus Blue Jackets X-Factor: Liam Foudy
The 20-year-old has been a playoff regular for Columbus after seeing just two regular season games, and he provides intriguing offensive upside. Since the Blue Jackets want to win low scoring, grinding games, it’s key to also be able to find someone like Foudy who could strike from a little lower in the lineup. He’s got speed and scored the back-breaking goal in Game 4 against Toronto that solidified the series win. His ice time crept up as the series went along — could he breakout against Tampa Bay?
Tampa Bay Lightning X-Factor: Steven Stamkos
Stamkos didn’t suit up in the round-robin as he continues to recover from a lower-body injury. If he is able to return it’ll be a huge boost to a forward group that, as mentioned above, struggled to put the puck in the back of the net.
“If there’s somebody that is working harder than him to try to get back, I have not seen it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper told reporters Friday. “He’s rehabbing. Our staff has been working with him on a daily basis.”
Stamkos had 29 goals and 66 points in 57 games during the season and would give Tampa another elite scoring option up front.