Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Amalie Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: USA, Fox Sports, TVAS
Opponent SBNation Site: The Cannon
The Playoffs are officially starting for the Tampa Bay Lightning. After a disappointing loss against the Washington Capitals during the 2018 run, they now begin their fifth playoff appearance over the last six years. For the first time in franchise history, they’re coming into the postseason as a Presidents’ Trophy winner.
Their first opponent this year is the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets are still waiting for their first postseason series victory. During their 20 years of existence, they still haven’t won any playoff series, although it’s fair to mention that they lost to the future Stanley Cup Champion in 2017 and 2018.
Despite being the most active team at the Trade Deadline this year, Columbus secured a playoff berth just one game before the end of the regular season. Everything is on the line for the Blue Jackets General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen. They traded most of their 2019 and 2020 draft picks for Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Keith Kinkaid and Adam McQuaid and it’s still not clear if any of them will re-sign with the Jackets this summer. Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are very likely leaving the team and since the Jackets front office decided to keep them for the playoff run, they will leave the team for free.
The Lightning have won all three of regular season games against the Jackets and outscored them 17-3. The Bolts are the favorite and some Columbus players would need to make a step forward to change that. Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel have been effective for the team after their trades, but probably didn’t bring quite as much offence as expected. Sergei Bobrovsky’s coming into the Playoffs on a hot streak. He’s had six shutouts since the start of February but in the past, he has struggled slightly in the postseason. For a more detailed preview, you can check an Alan’s article from yesterday.
Adam McQuaid has a head injury and isn’t expected to play during the first round. Ryan Murray is also injured and hasn’t played since 18 of February. The biggest surprise is 19-year-old forward Alexandre Texier who has played just two NHL games in his career but will start against the Lightning tonight on a third line with Riley Nash and Brandon Dubinsky. Alexander Wennberg has fallen out of favor in the eyes of John Tortorella and will be scratched today.
Speaking of the Lightning roster, there is still a big concern about Anton Stralman’s health. He returned for the game 81 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but was a healthy scratch for the last game of the regular season. He also hasn’t participated at any practice this week, so could mean he isn’t ready and is still recovering. Victor Hedman has returned to the ice this week and according to Jon Cooper, he’s going to play against the Jackets tonight.
The Athletic’s Joe Smith also believes that Jan Rutta will start this postseason as a top six defenseman on a pair with Mikhail Sergachev. Sergachev’s regular season partner Braydon Coburn will very likely be scratched tonight
Pretty amazing that Jan Rutta, acquired in January in Slater Koekkoek deal w Chicago, looks like he’ll be in #TBLightning top six to open playoffs. Been a smart, steady defenseman who makes good reads. Earned trust from coaches. On right side w Sergachev— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithTB) April 9, 2019
Eddie Pasquale has been sent down to the Syracuse Crunch and will help them during their playoff run. Louis Domingue participated in practice on Tuesday and is ready to resume his backup duties.
The 2018-2019 regular season has been spectacular for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Many players set a personal or even franchise records and the team tied with 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for the most wins in a single season. All of that puts a lot of pressure on the Bolts during the upcoming playoffs. Even a Conference Final loss would be considered as a failure in the eyes of many fans. To have the best chance of avoiding that, the Lightning just need to play the way they played the whole regular season.
But no matter what happens, let’s enjoy the start of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Tyler Johnson
Yanni Gourde - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Mathieu Joseph
Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - JT Miller
Scratched: Danick Martel, Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - Jan Rutta
Scratched: Cameron Gaunce, Braydon Coburn
Injured: Anton Stralman
Columbus Blue Jackets
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Ryan Dzingel - Matt Duchene - Josh Anderson
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Alexandre Texier - Riley Nash - Brandon Dubinsky
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Markus Nutivaara - David Savard
Dean Kukan - Scott Harrington