Since last Thursday, the Columbus Blue Jackets have played over 21 periods worth of hockey, with three overtime games (including Tuesday’s 5 OT marathon). This Thursday afternoon they stuck to regulation time – and stuck it to the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 to even their series at one game each. And they looked strong right through the final minute.
Blue Jackets automaton Seth Jones skated 28:31 of 60 minutes, two days after setting a modern-day record of 65:06 in a single game. Defensive partner Zach Werenski added 25:45 time on ice, with David Savard and Vladislav Gavrikov, the second pair, both adding over 20 minutes. Forwards Boone Jenner and Nick Foligno also topped 20 minutes, with Alex Texier less than a minute short of 20. For the Lightning, defenseman Victor Hedman (26:47) and forwards Nikita Kucherov (21:11) and Brayden Point (22:02) topped 20 minutes TOI.
By the Numbers
In all the info about Game 1 of this series, one little tidbit seems to have gone unnoticed. For the first time this postseason, the Blue Jackets played with a tied score other than 0-0 or 3-3. Every game, of course, starts at 0-0. Games 3 and 4 against the Toronto Maple Leafs were tied at 3-3 going into overtime. But not once in the Toronto series was the score tied at 1-1 or 2-2 or 4-4. Game 1 against the Lightning on Tuesday was tied at 1-1 and again at 2-2.
For the second straight game, the Blue Jackets and Lightning were tied at 1-1. Unlike Tuesday’s loss to Tampa Bay, Columbus never let this game get to 2-2, holding the Lightning to their single goal. Goalie Joonas Korpisalo had to make several difficult saves to preserve the lead. Tampa Bay outshot Columbus 37-22 for the game, but considering that the Lightning had the first nine shots on goal, the rest of the game seems more balanced shot-wise.
The Blue Jackets goals were scored by Ryan Murray, Oliver Bjorkstrand, and Alexander Wennberg. Pierre-Luc Dubois recorded a pair of assists, with additional assists credited to Foligno and rookies Liam Foudy and Texier.
With Blue Jackets forwards Cam Atkinson and Nathan Gerbe ruled “unfit to play” for Game 2, coach John Tortorella had to make some lineup changes. Emil Bemstrom and Devin Shore dressed as replacements. Bemstrom played in three games of the Qualifying Round against Toronto, as well as 56 regular-season games, recording 10 goals and 10 assists. During the regular season, Shore appeared in six games for the Blue Jackets, with a goal and an assist. He also played 39 games for the Anaheim Ducks, with four goals and six assists. This game was his Stanley Cup playoff debut.
The Columbus fourth line of Shore (nine shifts, 5:52 TOI), Bemstrom (11 shifts, 6:56 including 0:46 PP time), and Eric Robinson (nine shifts, 6:11) was on the ice when the Lightning’s Nikita Kucherov opened the scoring. Tampa Bay’s fourth line of Mitchell Stephens (8:20 TOI), Cedric Paquette (10:28), and Patrick Maroon (11:23 including 1:30 PP time) picked up more of the load for their teammates in the aftermath of Tuesday’s incredible effort.
Blue Jackets forward Gus Nyquist skated 25 shifts in 18:29 TOI, had two shots, and was credited with two hits (although he did seem to be more physical than a mere two hits). His ice time included 3:27 PP time and 1:15 shorthanded. For the series, he’s now skated 85 shifts for 64:10 of ice time. In this postseason, he’s been on the ice for 220 shifts, spanning one second shy of 167 minutes
Nyquist has consistently been among the top four Blue Jackets forwards in TOI (even leading the group in one game). Yet he has only a single assist to show for his effort. From his continued high TOI, it seems that coach Tortorella has not lost confidence in Nyquist. Is he ready to break through with a huge Game 3?
Coming Up Next
Game 3 of this series is scheduled for Saturday evening – yes, “evening” not “afternoon” – at 7:30 P.M. EST. For the first time in the series, the Blue Jackets will be the “home” team. Remember that the home team gets to match lines and in the faceoff circle, the visiting team’s player needs to position his stick first, which can give the “home” center an advantage.
While these may seem like minor things, they’re not. Any edge in the faceoff circle can lead to better puck possession. Line matchups can be critical, especially in a series that features teams playing such significantly different styles. Coach Tortorella having the last line change might mean some additional ice time for the fourth line.
Unlike the series against the Maple Leafs, this is a “real” playoff series, so it’s best-of-seven (not best-of-five). While every playoff Game 3 is vitally important (well, like, duh, every game is critical in the playoffs), it won’t put one team on the brink of elimination.