With redemption on their minds, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a chance to do-over last year’s four game sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2020 first round playoff series. Unbelievably, these two teams are to match-up once more with plenty on the line, however this time around one team in particular looks a lot different from their last meeting.
New Year, New Talent, Same Results
The Columbus Blue Jackets created the shock of the season last year, knocking off the heavily favored Tampa Bay Lightning. In spite of stars such as Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Brayden Point and Vezina winner, Andrei Vasilevskiy. But this year could prove to be a much different script when you factor in their opponent’s roster.
After losing the trio of Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin and Matt Duchene all at the end of last season, the Blue Jackets did little to improve the roster they were left with. They added Gustav Nyquist and were hoping to see outbreaks from some of their other talents. They began the season with Joonas Korpisalo in goal who had never played above 31 games at the NHL level and had always been behind the aforementioned Bobrovsky. Not much was expected of their depleted roster beyond their elite and proven defensive core and few even had this team contending.
The health of Steven Stamkos is still in question as game one is approaching, as well as recently injured Victor Hedman. In last seasons playoffs, the Lightning had lost Hedman due to injury and Kucherov to suspension. The then well-rounded Blue Jackets took the puck and ran with it into a four-game sweep.
However this season, Tampa Bay figures to take a different approach and will not have to worry about a talented scoring threat. Pierre-Luc Dubois goals from last season (27) to this season (18), as well as Cam Atkinson (41) goals last season too (12) this season shows that there is a definite lack of scoring within their top unit. Columbus will rely heavily on Oliver Bjorkstrand, Boone Jenner, Alexandre Texier, and veteran presence Nick Foligno to help carry any offense.
Between The Pipes
We have Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Lightning and Joonas Korpisalo for the Blue Jackets. Vasilevskiy is last year’s Vezina Trophy award winner and is putting up solid numbers once again this season. Posting a respectable 2.56 GAA and a .917 save percentage in this year’s regular-season while playing In 52 games. Korpisalo sits with similar numbers of 2.60 GAA and a .911 save percentage in only 37 games before the injury. Columbus also has backup goaltender Elvis Merzlikins who posted a 2.35 GAA with a .923 save percentage in relief of Korpisalo in 33 NHL games.
The edge in net would have to be given to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Simply for the consistent workload of Vasilevskiy and how his numbers have been proven solid over longer periods of time.
Even with potential key injuries to the Tampa Bay Lightning, this series is still theirs to lose. Expect them to come in hungry with redemption on their mind. Tampa Bay still has an explosion of offensive talent on their roster and has some key defensive pieces such as veterans Zach Bogosian, Ryan McDonagh, and Kevin Shattenkirk.
Columbus will have to rely on their defensive system with elite defensive talents (Seth Jones, Zach Werenski and David Savard) along with quick breakouts to capitalize on their chances. Young talents such as Liam Foudy with his speed, along with Alexander Wennberg will have to play a much more important role in the overall success of the team.
Can the Columbus Blue Jackets catch “Lightning in a bottle” for the second year in a row? Game one begins Tuesday, we will find out if Tampa Bay has learned anything from last year’s elimination, or if Columbus is destined for another major upset in two consecutive years.
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