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Lightning take control of series with 2-1 win over Blue Jackets

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It appears Columbus wasn’t ready for this version of the Lightning.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Columbus Blue Jackets - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Entering today’s game there was some speculation as whether or not the Tampa Bay Lightning could square up against the Columbus Blue Jackets desperation. The Lightning answered that speculation with a hard nosed 2-1 win spearheaded by the line of Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde, and Barclay Goodrow. By securing this victory the Lightning positioned themselves for the knock out punch in Game Five.

But, before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s get to the game.

1st Period

The opening period saw the Blue Jackets show some desperation for the first time all series as they came out flying to set the pace. Their forecheck and neutral zone pressure forced the Lightning to chip pucks out of their zone and to scramble a lot more than they would like. Columbus’s pressure eventually found Tampa Bay out of sorts in the defensive zone as Oliver Bjorkstrand thought he scored the game’s opening goal, but thanks to the Lightning’s video staff the goal was reviewed for a possible offside.

And...

Alexander Texier is just a wee bit offside here to negate Bjorkstrand’s goal. This turn appeared to wake the Lightning up as they finally managed to maintain some offensive zone pressure and push the Blue Jackets back. It didn’t manifest in the faceoff circle, where Columbus went 11-0 in the opening frame, but Tampa Bay’s three scoring lines (spearheaded by the Point and Gourde lines) created a few chances that made sure Joonas Korpisalo was sharp.

As the period waned, the Lightning began to take more control, but still struggled with some zone entries. Brayden Point managed to get a little creative on one entry, but wasn’t able to finish it off thanks to Zach Werenski’s great poke check.

Overall, Tampa Bay trailed in the shot attempt battle with 48% (18-15) of the shots, but dominated the quality battle at 65% and high danger chances at 4-2. Failing to win a single faceoff in a period hurts, but the Lightning managed to still gain more control as the period went on. However, given how aggressive Columbus was in the first, especially their defense, Tampa Bay is going to have to adjust their breakout scheme. Their standard breakout is being sat on by the Blue Jackets’ F1 while the F2 is inching up the ice more than usual to cut off their normal outlet. Some kind of adjustment needs to be made to alleviate that pressure, because Columbus isn’t going to stop attacking.

2nd Period

Tampa Bay opened the second the best way a team can, by scoring within the first 20 seconds.

The line of Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde, and Barclay Goodrow has been so dominant in this series that it was only an eventually that they would break through. The forecheck has been their bread and butter and it was on full display here.

Tampa Bay continued to attack and, yet again, the third line stepped up.

Blake Coleman has had a fantastic series, and it is a shame he hasn’t been rewarded more on the scoresheet for how strong he’s been. This goal also highlights had important Victor Hedman is for the Lightning through transition. Look at how Columbus collapses around him in the neutral zone and look how wide open Coleman is. That’s because the Blue Jackets are terrified of Hedman carrying the puck and because of that he draws a bevy of attention toward himself. That’s what breaks Coleman open for a one-on-one against Werenski (where he dances around him) and eventually to Shattenkirk’s shot that gets deflected by Gourde.

Shortly after Gourde’s goal, penalties to Tyler Johnson and Gustav Nyquist set up some 4-on-4 play. Unfortunately, Columbus managed to score their first of the game.

Personally, this looks like goaltender interference given that Vasilevskiy was literally pushed by Cam Atkinson, but there’s no reason to harp on Jon Cooper for not challenging this goal. Given the absurd inconsistency that the NHL has shown with regard to calling goaltender interference correctly he might as well avoid the chance of going on the penalty kill in a 4-on-3 situation. Still, in my eyes, that’s another goal that shouldn’t count for Columbus.

The goal appeared to have reeled in the momentum that the Lightning had as the Blue Jackets began pinning the Lightning in their defensive zone repeatedly over the next few minutes. Their forecheck forced Tampa Bay to scramble far more than they would’ve liked and forced numerous panic clears that were thwarted by Columbus. Luckily, Vasilevskiy was sharp during these prolonged shifts.

A late power-play after Pierre-Luc Dubois was called for slashing at 16:09 provided a great opportunity for Tampa Bay to regain their two-goal lead. However, Korpisalo had other plans in mind.

Sometimes the goaltender makes a great save instead of being lucky, and that’s exactly what Korpisalo did here. We’ve seen Vasilevskiy do it numerous times, so it shouldn’t really surprise anyone that another NHL goaltender does it as well. Korpisalo tracked Tyler Johnson and anticipated the rebound chance going high. It’s a phenomenal save that requires a massive amount of focus and dexterity to pull off that quickly. Tampa Bay put four shots on Korpisalo during that power-play, but none of them beat him.

During the second, Tampa Bay controlled the shot attempt battle at 57% (16-12), lost the quality battle at 47%, were edged out in the scoring chance department 7-6 and the high danger chance battle 3-2. It wasn’t a pretty period, but it was effective for the most part. Tampa Bay managed to adjust to Columbus’s forechecking pressure to abuse their aggression, but all it took was one fluky bounce for the Blue Jackets to claw back into the game. The Lightning had to be ready for a desperate Columbus team in the final 20 minutes.

3rd Period

Columbus, predictably, came out flying with the kind of desperation you’d expect from a team in their position. Tampa Bay managed this pressure decently enough, but an early penalty on Mikhail Sergachev appeared to put them on the back foot. Fortunately, the Lightning penalty kill were aggressive instead of passive on this chance and neutralized most of Columbus’s attack.

Unfortunately, shortly after the power-play expired, this dangerous hit on Alex Killorn happened.

Luckily, Killorn wasn’t hurt long term, just shaken up a bit. Dubois was penalized for this hit, and it’s possible that league might look into it, but that is a bit unclear. Killorn loses his balance due to Dubois’s skate hitting his right as he was trying to plant his foot. The push after Killorn is airborne is a bad look, but I have a feeling the NHL won’t do anything about the hit in general.

Tampa Bay started to find more of a groove after the ensuing power-play that saw a few decent chances. That didn’t sway Columbus from making some questionable hits though.

Pretty sure hitting a player directly in the numbers into the boards is a penalty, but asking for consistency from NHL officiating is a pipe dream. The Lightning responded by pinning the Jackets in their zone for the next few shifts and limiting Columbus’s counter attacking chances to very little. Luckily, Sergachev was all right as the game progressed.

Columbus’s desperation cranked up even more as the second half of the period wound down. Tampa Bay had some decent looks in the offensive zone, but it was apparent that the Lightning were trying to grind the game out. The Blue Jackets pulled Korpisalo with a little over two minutes left, but their extra pressure ended up hurting them as they were called for too many men.

Tampa Bay’s ensuring power-play saw them focus on whittling time away as Columbus frenetically scrambled for any kind of pressure. The Blue Jackets failed to generate anything as time expired, and the Lightning skated away with a 3-1 series lead.

Conclusion

It wasn’t a pretty game from Tampa Bay, they struggled for large swaths of each period, but they capitalized on the pressure they did establish and didn’t allow Columbus to penetrate the slot nearly as much as they would’ve liked.

TBL @ CBJ, 5v5 Shot Map
Natural Stat Trick, www.naturalstattrick.com

It’s interesting that Columbus fired most of their shots from the edge of the left circle, but the main area where they’ve been dangerous (the middle of the ice) they were largely absent. That’s a testament to the Lightning’s defensive system forcing the Blue Jackets out of that area and allowing Vasilevskiy to see more shots.

Speaking of that, Tampa Bay’s adjustment in allowing Vasilevskiy to see more shots should’ve been done sooner. He’s one of the most technically sound and athletic goaltenders in the league, stop making his life more difficult. He’s always struggled with shots through traffic, so, this adjustment should only help him.

There’s also been a conversation about John Tortorella mixing up his forward lines as the series has progressed. It’s what smart coaches do, but it also points to Columbus failing to match Tampa Bay’s offensive onslaught. Specifically, the third line of Coleman, Gourde, and Goodrow absolutely molly-whopping anything thrown at them.

The top line has also been strong, whereas the second line has been a little over break even, but struggling to generate enough quality. The fourth live for Tampa Bay has been getting caved in every aspect, so, it’s no surprise they haven’t broken more than 10 minutes in ice time.

Now that the Lightning have a 3-1 series lead, they’re in the drivers seat. They’ve been the better team throughout this series and there is little reason to not put their foot on Columbus’s throat in Game Five. That said, the desperation level that Columbus showed today is going to be amplified ten-fold on Wednesday. Tampa Bay better be ready.