After three games of action the Tampa Bay Lightning hold the slimmest of margins with a two-games-to-one lead in the series. The action has pretty much held serve so far as Columbus has built a wall in front of their netminder and made it a slog for the Lightning to get second chances. On the other hand, Tampa Bay has been the fitter of the two teams and pressed the action for most of the going. Throw in a five-overtime game to kick things off and it’s been an interesting series.
Even though it is a team that wins or loses a game, individuals do stand out both good and bad. So, this week’s question is simple: Which player has stood out to you so far? Either in a good way, or a bad way?
Victor Hedman - It may be a surprise to see a Norris Trophy Finalist as the answer to this question, consider a week ago we didn’t even know if he was going to be in the line-up. After leaving the final round robin game after awkwardly twisting his leg underneath his rather large body, we didn’t know if he had a broken ankle, torn tendons, or the dreaded high-ankle sprain.
Yet, here we are three games into the series and a serious case can be made that he’s been the best player not named Joonas Korpisalo. Let’s take a look at the numbers:
Points: 2 (1 goal, 1 assist)
Time one ice - 92:37
CF% - 70.22%
Shots - 59
xGF - 4.37
In case you were wondering, yes, all those stats lead the Lightning. In Game One, were he was basically a game-time decision he logged 57:38 of ice time and then followed it up with 26:47 in Game Two. He basically had a vacation in Game Three as he played just 22:19. Chances are he is spending all of this time on ice with some sort of injury and is just managing the pain at this point.
Somewhat surprisingly, he’s only been averaging 4:21 on the power play as Coach Cooper has substituted Mikhail Sergachev on the top unit for most of these games. The coach has mentioned that Sergachev has good chemistry with Nikita Kucherov and did a decent job filling in as the quarterback at the end of the regular season when Hedman was out with an injury. It’s also a chance for Cooper to get Hedman a bit of a break without sacrificing too much of an advantage.
While he might not be 100% physically, he’s still been the Lightning’ best defenseman by far. With the Lightning nursing a 3-2 lead in the third period of Game Three Hedman didn’t sit back, it seemed like on every one of his shifts in that period he was attacking the net. While it didn’t generate any goals, it did force the Blue Jackets to work harder in their own zone, effectively stifling their offense 200 feet from the Lightning net.
This is an easy one; Joonas Korpisalo. He split starts with Elvis Merzlikins for the Blue Jackets this season going 19-12-5 in 35 starts and 37 games played. He posted a .911 SV%, 2.60 GAA, and 0.43 GSAA. He was basically a league average goaltender. Nothing spectacular, but did enough to get the job done at the NHL level. He also posted 1.2 WAR which ranked him 36th in the NHL.
So imagine my surprise when he got to the playoffs and suddenly seemed to be playing like 2014-15, Hart Trophy Winning Carey Price. Over seven games in the playoffs, he’s posted a .956 SV% and 1.51 GAA. He also has a 9.38 GSAA which tops the NHL in the playoffs so far. Incidentally, Carey Price, who has remembered that it wasn’t that long ago that he was the best hockey player in the world, is second in that category.
The first two games of the series were extremely frustrating. Obviously, the Blue Jackets are a superior shot blocking team. Knowing that they have less talent than they had last year, head coach John Tortorella has gotten the players to buy in completely on playing defense, which to him has always included blocking shots. But even with that factored in, it really felt like Korpisalo was standing on his head denying the Lightning time and time again with incredible saves.
During the first game that lasted forever, the Lightning were expected to score 7.03 goals in all situations compared to 3.57 allowed. That game ended 3-2 in the Lightning’s favor. In game two, the Lightning were expected to score 2.39 goals while allowing 2.04 and ended up in a 3-1 defeat. The third game though, finally felt like Korpisalo was more of the average goaltender he had been for most of 2019-20. The Lightning were expected to score 3.36 goals and allow 2.1 in all situations, and pulled out a 3-2 victory.
Now the question is, will he go back to his Carey Price imitation and extend this series out? Or can the Lightning shake his confidence a bit and end this series earlier than seven games.