The Tampa Bay Lightning took a 3-1 lead in the series with a 2-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets Monday afternoon. On paper, it was probably the worst game the Lightning have played during the series. They had their lowest Corsi For Percentage and Expected Goals For Percentage of the four games when adjusted for score. If you don’t adjust for score, this was the first game where the team was below 50% in Corsi For.
So let’s get into some thoughts.
Andrei Vasilevskiy was great
Andrei Vasilevskiy put up a great performance only allowing one goal on 29 shots. Other than the marathon Game One, this was the most shots on goal Vasilevskiy has had to make in the series. And even then, if you adjust Game One to a per 60 rate, this was still the most shots on goal Vasilevskiy has faced.
When you think about if a goaltender stole a game or not, you want to look at the goals they allowed verses what they were expected to allow. While technically Game One could qualify as a steal because he only allowed two goals compared to 3.57 expected goals against, the near steal goes to Joonas Korpisalo who allowed three goals against 7.03 expected goals against.
In Game Two, Vasilevskiy allowed three goals when he was expected to allow 2.04. In Game Three, he allowed two goals against an expected goals against of 2.1. This game still didn’t quite qualify as a steal, but he only allowed the one goal with 1.61 expected goals against. The one goal he allowed came during four-on-four play and questionably could have been the result of goaltender interference, but it was not nearly blatant enough for Jon Cooper to challenge. And I think that was the right call because I do not think that it would have been overturned and would have resulted on a 4-on-3 penalty kill.
Yanni Gourde and the third line stole the show
Yanni Gourde looks like a new player. After a regular season where he struggled a bit, some of that fire and tenacity that we’ve known from him in the past shown through. He’s been aided by trade deadline acquisitions Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. Their line stood out in the first three games of the series. They displayed energy, forechecking, and a relentlessness that led to Jon Cooper starting them each period of Games Three and Four.
Gourde picked up a goal in the first game that was the tying goal that would lead us to five... overtime... periods. Coleman picked up an assist on that goal as well. Going into Game Four of the series though, those two points, plus one assist for Gourde in the round robin game against the Boston Bruins, were the only points the third line had put up during the playoffs. Three points in a combined 21 games played.
That changed with Monday’s performance against the Blue Jackets. Their line picked up both goals that the Lightning scored; Goodrow with a greasy goal in front off of a Coleman pass and a Gourde redirect of a Kevin Shattenkirk shot that came from a Goodrow feed. Goodrow and Gourde both ended up with a goal and an assist and Coleman with one assist for the game.
Over the course of the series, the three players on this line have led the Lightning in CF%, FF%, SF%, and xGF%. They have dominated. Now, you may be thinking “Oh, they’ve been doing it against lesser lines because they’re the third line.” Well, my friends, you would be wrong. During the first two games when Jon Cooper chose the match-ups, the third line mostly faced Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner, and Liam Foudy for forwards, and Seth Jones and Zach Werenski for defensemen. That is Columbus’ second line. Foligno was fourth and Jenner sixth in forward scoring on the Blue Jackets during the season. Liam Foudy was a 1st round pick that has been offensively dynamic in the OHL the past two seasons. Between Jones and Werenski, you’re talking about two very high-end young defensemen that are offensive performers and skate big minutes.
The hard match-ups continued in Games Three and Four when the Blue Jackets had last change. They still sent Werenski and Jones out to match up against Gourde often. They also sent their top two lines out against the Gourde line regularly as well. In Game Three, it seemed that John Tortorella was trying to figure out an answer for them, trying different line combinations to slow them game. None of the Columbus lines found any great success against Gourde and his compatriots and that continued into Game Four.
When you get into the playoffs, it’s not always the stars that carry the game. Monday’s game was a great example. Steven Stamkos still has not returned from injury. The first line was shutdown offensively. The second line has struggled to get going and produce offense.
But the third line.
They were the difference.