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Blue Jackets put stranglehold on Lightning with 3-1 win, lead series 3-0

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The first time Tampa Bay has lost three games in a row all season now has them on the brink of a historic collapse.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Tampa Bay Lightning at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Everybody ropes, everybody rides. That was the mantra the Lightning adopted in the locker room entering this series. The meaning alluding to everyone on the team buying in and doing all the little things right. A saying that has only embodied the Tampa Bay Lightning for two periods this series.

The Lightning have failed to live up to their mantra. They’ve failed to handled the desperation from a Columbus team that has battled inconsistency all season. They’ve failed to focus on the little things that led them to a historic 62-win season.

Without their top forward and defenseman the Lightning faltered once again. Now, with a 3-1 loss this evening, the Lightning are out of chances. A 3-0 deficit and a confident Blue Jackets team stand in their way. A Presidents’ Trophy team has never been swept in the first round of the playoffs. Tuesday, Tampa Bay will look to avoid history and an embarrassing exit that will echo for years.

1st Period

The Lightning only managed three shots on goal, 30% of the shot attempts, and mustered little pressure throughout the opening 20 minutes. Columbus’ attitude and approach was evident from the opening faceoff as their forecheck and pressure pushed Tampa Bay back throughout the period. The Bolts had small surges where they had a semblance of control but too often they relied on a dump and chase mentality that saw the Blue Jackets easily cycle the puck out of their zone.

Last game, Jon Cooper mentioned how the Lightning relied on a dump and chase tactic too often in game two and they needed to rely on their possession game. The first period saw Tampa Bay ignore their coach’s words and repeatedly dump the puck into the offensive zone. The relentless forecheck that has defined the Lightning this season (and under the Yzerman/BriseBois era) was non-existent as Columbus skated circles around Tampa Bay.

Penalty wise, Tampa Bay’s only one of consequence was on Alex Killorn for running into the goaltender at 6:13. This call, in my eyes, was weak given that Bobrovsky never had control of the puck and Killorn was tied up with Pierre-Luc Dubois. Nonetheless, Tampa Bay finally managed to kill a penalty effectively thanks mostly to the play of Andrei Vasilevskiy.

The best chance for the Lightning came when Anthony Cirelli (who’s been Tampa Bay’s best forward in the series) pounced on a loose puck in the neutral zone and took advantage of a bad change by Columbus. Cirelli raced into the offensive zone only to have his shot ring off the crossbar and out of play—a sight we’ve seen often for the Lightning this series.

The period came to a close with Columbus pinning Tampa Bay in the defensive zone and firing shot after shot toward Vasilevskiy. The Russian netminder pushed aside a variety of chances, but the team in front of him was caught scrambling far too often. Mercifully, the buzzer rang and Tampa Bay was given a reprieve.

Metrically, this was all Columbus. Some will talk about zone time, but that matters little when one team controlled 70% of the shot attempts (Columbus) whereas the other couldn’t muster much the other way.

2nd Period

Folks, this only got worse for Tampa Bay in the second period. There was a small glimmer at the beginning of the frame with the Brayden Point line providing some strong pressure. But it didn’t matter as Columbus reset and showed Tampa Bay how to capitalize on their chances.

One, bad rebound from Vasilevskiy. Two, how in the world does Matt Duchene get that open at 5v5? If there was some hope after a scoreless first period and a strong opening shift to the second, that was ripped away from them with this goal.

Tampa Bay struggled to put pressure on Bobrovsky after Duchene’s goal even though they managed to maintain more zone time (even though the zone time is empty given their inability to apply pressure on net). Frustration started to seep into the Lightning’s game even more as the period progressed. It reached its peak with Ryan Callahan taking a boneheaded interference penalty at 6:50.

Then, the 28th ranked power-play made the top penalty killing unit look bad for the fourth time this series.

Braydon Coburn, apparently, can’t handle contact with Pierre-Luc Dubois and ends up falling into Vasilevskiy. Vasilevskiy struggles to reset and is unable to locate Bjorkstrand’s shot and thus a penalty kill that operated at 85% during the regular season has now been burned for the fourth time in eight tries.

It was only after Bjorkstrand’s goal that Tampa Bay actually pushed play into Columbus’ end. Down two goals in a pivotal game with their opponent noticeably sitting back with a lead was when Tampa Bay finally put some form of pressure on Bobrovsky. Unfortunately, anytime Tampa Bay did get a good look on net, the shot was either blocked by a Blue Jackets defender, saved by Bobrovsky, or missed the net entirely.

Once the buzzer rang, the Lightning walked into the locker room with only 13 shots on goal. Thirteen. One Three.

3rd Period

Since the first period of game one, Tampa Bay looked like Tampa Bay. The speed that had been their hallmark suddenly found itself as the Lightning pushed Columbus back. The Blue Jackets were noticeably sitting back but Tampa Bay came at them with an attack that had everyone wondering where this had been for the past game and a half.

Their pressure finally paid off.

Finally, a pulse! It took seven periods for it to happen, but the Lightning looked like the Lightning finally. Where this kind of passing and movement was from the forwards the past game and a half is a good question, but it’s better to be late than never show up, and show up they did here.

The remainder of the third saw Tampa Bay go full press to find the equalizer, but every time they came close, a break went against them. A blatant trip by Bobrovsky neutralized an in-close chance by Adam Erne. Ryan McDonagh was clearly interfered with by Artemi Panarin in the defensive zone which saw no call. Alex Killorn rang one off the post. Erik Cernak had a golden chance that Bobrovksy snagged out of the air. Palat had multiple chances that Bobrovsky shut down as well.

Tampa Bay’s forecheck, now fully alive, repeatedly and frantically forced the the puck into the Blue Jackets zone. But every shot received an answer from Columbus. Bobrovksy, who hadn’t really been tested since game one, made save after save for the Blue Jackets to keep their lead intact until Cam Atkinson sealed Tampa Bay’s fate in the final minute.

Undeterred, Tampa Bay continued to attack for the final 60 seconds and tempers began to flair after a stoppage occurred with several seconds left that saw Nick Foligno and Steven Stamkos exchange a few words and jabs before the officials pulled them apart. One final push from the Lightning saw a shot from J.T. Miller go wide before Columbus cleared it to kill the clock and, in turn, take a near death grip on the series.

A strong third period wasn’t enough to make up for an uninspiring 40 minutes. If Tampa Bay can build off what they did in the third period then they might have a chance, but they’re now out of time—they have to answer Tuesday if they want to stay alive.

The Good

Third Period

This was the most dangerous Tampa Bay had looked since the first period of game one. They need to play like that for every period for the remainder of their season. If they put forth an effort reminiscent of the first or second period from this evening’s game, they’ll surely be swept. The speed, forecheck, and aggression was all their in the final 20 minutes. Where was it in game two and the majority of this game?

The Bad

Everything Else

As I mentioned in the previous section; “where was this in game two and the majority of the game?”

Tampa Bay was shellacked in the first two periods. Columbus did whatever they wanted and made one of the fastest teams in the NHL look slow throughout the first 40 minutes. Poor passing, bad puck management, bad decision making, and an unwillingness to out-battle Columbus along the boards plagued Tampa Bay. There should be one thing on their mind now—just win one.

Take it period by period. Simplify the game. Stop allowing Columbus to dictate the game and show the fans the team that won 62 games.

The Whatever

This falls on Cooper more than anyone. The Lightning haven’t adjusted to what Columbus has brought onto the ice and that falls on the coaching staff. Too often, Tampa Bay has looked lost and confused in all three zones. Dumping the puck repeatedly and allowing Columbus to cycle it out of their zone with little impedance. Cooper’s been out-coached badly in this series by John Tortorella and if something doesn’t change then his recent extension might mean nothing in regards to his future. A collapse like this will have fallout.