Blue Jackets on the Brink of Sweeping Lightning

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Columbus Blue Jackets extended their stunning post-season mastery of the Tampa Bay Lightning, beating the NHL’s best team 3-1 on Sunday night and moving to within a game of sweeping the playoff series.

Matt Duchene, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Cam Atkinson scored, and Sergei Bobrovsky fended off a desperate third-period charge to finish with 30 saves for the Blue Jackets, who took a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal. Columbus will try to win a playoff series for the first time in franchise history in Game 4 at home Tuesday night.

Columbus Blue Jackets Sergei Bobrovsky Tampa Bay Lightning Adam Erne
Columbus Blue Jackets’ Sergei Bobrovsky makes a save on Tampa Bay Lightning’s Adam Erne (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Without their top scorer, the suspended Nikita Kucherov, and injured defenceman Victor Hedman, the Lightning and couldn’t find any momentum until late in the final period, and then Bobrovsky rose to the challenge.

Columbus has commanded the series since they fell behind 3-0 in the opening period of Game 1, only to rally to win that one 4-3. They pummeled the Lightning 5-1 in Game 2, and solidly outplayed them for all but a few minutes on Sunday.

The night was satisfying for Bobrovsky — he hasn’t been great in the playoffs the last two seasons — and the Blue Jackets, who were 2-8 at Nationwide Arena in three previous post-season appearances. They are the only NHL team that hasn’t won a playoff series.

The Lightning are facing an unexpected quick elimination. Teams have come back from 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series on just four previous occasions. The last time was in 2014, when the Los Angeles Kings dug out of the hole in the opening series against San Jose and eventually won the Stanley Cup.

Last season, the Blue Jackets jumped out to a 2-0 series lead over Washington, only to drop four straight, three of them in Columbus.

After a scoreless first period, the Blue Jackets struck 1:44 into the second when Duchene was in the right place to score off a rebounded. Bjorkstrand went over Andrei Vasilevskiy’s head from the right circle on a power play for a 2-0 Columbus lead at 8:25, with rookie Alexandre Texier picking up his first NHL assist.

Tampa Bay Lightning Andrei Vasilevskiy Columbus Blue Jackets Pierre-Luc Dubois Josh Anderson
Tampa Bay Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy gives up a goal as Columbus Blue Jackets’ Pierre-Luc Dubois and Josh Anderson watch (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Tampa Bay picked up the offensive pressure in the third period and got on the board when Ondrej Palat beat Bobrovsky from the slot at 4:40. But the Lighting couldn’t muster any more, and Atkinson connected on an empty-netter with a minute left in the game.

NOTES: Kucherov was suspended for boarding Blue Jackets defenceman Markus Nutivaara in Game 2 on Friday. … Columbus signed D Vladislav Gavrikov on Saturday but he’s not cleared to play yet because his visa is pending. … The Lightning’s three shots in the first period were the fewest allowed in a period by the Blue Jackets in a home playoff game. … The Blue Jackets last won a home playoff game on April 18, 2017. … Columbus has scored four power-play goals in the series.


UP NEXT: Game 4 on Tuesday in Columbus.


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Mitch Stacy, The Associated Press