STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS : QUARTERFINALS : GAME 1 RECAP
By Leo Haggerty

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (L 4-3)

To say the Bolts start to the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs was an inauspicious one is an understatement. Tampa Bay, after moving out to a 3-0 lead in the first period, allowed Columbus to come all the way back to steal Game 1 of the best-of-seven first round series 4-3 at Amalie Arena.

Even more disconcerting is the way the Lightning lost.  Being more specific, it’s how badly the Bolts performed especially one of their star players.

Now, I realize I have never coached a hockey game in my life.  With that being said, it doesn’t take a genius to ascertain that something is still physically wrong D Victor Hedman.  #77 is avoiding any type of contact like it’s the plague and is trying extensively to poke check players instead of taking the body.

The tall Swede made two crucial third period errors, allowing the Blue Jackets skaters with the puck to cross his face and get to the front of the net, that led directly to goals.  That, to be sure, is not the way Hedman plays the game and all Lightning fans are hoping he comes back at full strength for Game 2.

Tampa Bay started out the contest on fire.  F Alex Killorn (1), while Columbus was on the power-play, slid the puck past Blue Jacket G Sergei Bobrovsky to put the Bolts on the scoreboard first.

The Lightning scored twice more in the opening 20 minutes.  F Anthony Cirelli (1) found the back of the net at 11:01 and Yanni Gourde (1) deflected a shot from the point by D Jan Rutta.  That gave the Bolts a 3-zip advantage at the first intermission and it looked like the rout was on.

I don’t know what Columbus Coach John Tortorella said to his troops after the first period but, if you’re a Lightning fan, you better hope he didn’t bottle it for the future.  The Blue Jackets started to pick up the pace in the middle period and simply started to outwork the Bolts and that paid dividends at 9:15 with the Blue Jackets initial goal.

Plus, Bobrovsky made some spectacular saves.  Specifically, one on F Nikita Kucherov in the middle period and the other on F Steven Stamkos as time was running out in the second period, to keep the Blue Jackets in the contest.  Still, Tampa Bay had what seemed to be a comfortable 3-1 lead at the second intermission.

The third period was all Columbus and it showed on the scoreboard.  Also, it didn’t matter if the guys from Ohio were up or down a man when it came to scoring.

The Blue Jackets deposited an even-strength goal at 7:56 to cut the Lightning lead to 3-2.  Then, with Tampa Bay on a four-minute power-play, Columbus managed to get the puck past Bolts G Andrei Vasilevskiy to even the score with a shorthanded marker.

The Blue Jackets came all the way back at 14:05.  With Killorn in the box for high sticking, the Bolts could not clear the puck from their own zone at the end of a power-play by the visitors.  Columbus made them pay as the Blue Jackets took their first lead of the evening and never relinquished it.

G Bobrovsky was outstanding stopping 26 shots.  #88 made 22 saves in defeat.

Remember, Lightning fans, don’t get disheartened.  It still takes four wins to survive and advance in the playoffs.

All the Tampa Bay loss means is that the Bolts have to win a game on Columbus ice and hold serve at home.  That’s the good news.  The bad news is that means the series with the Blue Jackets goes the full seven games.

If that hypothesis come to fruition, Tampa Bay owner Jeff Vinic will make a sizable amount of money because the Lightning will get its full compliment of four home first round playoff games.  The downside would be you could have a tired hockey club going into the next round.

So, don’t press the panic button just yet.  Let’s see how the Lightning react to this wake-up call loss on Friday.

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS : QUARTERFINALS : GAME 2 RECAP

By Leo Haggerty

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (L 5-1)

Ladies and gentlemen, Tampa Bay lost their second consecutive playoff game to Columbus.  The score was 5-1 at Amalie Arena and I will give you two reason why this occurred.

The first is what I will refer to as the “Game 1 Hangover” and I believe it was extremely prevalent.  In my opinion, the Lightning let. as we say in the coaching profession, “One loss become two” because they couldn’t shake the doldrums of the way they gave away Game 1.

The second is what I call “The Minnesota Postulate” and bear with me as I reiterate in case you missed it.  When the Wild came to Amalie Arena and beat the Bolts 3-0 at the end of the regular season,  I stated then that Minnesota put the three-part blueprint out on how to beat Tampa Bay.  So let’s revisit that, shall we?

The first, and the most important, part of the equation is to score first.  The next two pieces of the puzzle are immaterial if that doesn’t occur.

The second, if you have the lead. is to pack the defensive end.  Do not allow the Bolts any clear shooting lanes by compressing the five skaters into their defensive zone.

Finally, have your goaltender stand on his head.  Columbus G Bobrovsky, though he didn’t make the spectacular saves that he made in Game 1 after the opening period, allowed only one goal.

Columbus accomplished Phase 1 at 5:15 of the opening period.  The Blue Jackets extended the lead at 11:44 and the Lightning went to the locker room trailing 2-0.

The Blue Jackets, with a two-goal lead, now implemented Phase 2 and did it to perfection.  The Columbus forwards would dump the puck into the Bolts zone and make Tampa Bay go the length of the ice to try and score while their two defensemen were always back at their own blue line so their wasn’t any Lightning odd-man rushes.

The Ohio Gang was content to counterattack when they had numbers or had a power-play opportunity.  The latter materialized just 30 seconds into the middle period when Killorn was whistled for interference.

Columbus wasted no time and at 1:28 got the puck past Vasilevskiy.  That put Columbus up 3-zip at the second intermission.

Tampa Bay gave the home fans some hope at the 5:00 mark of the third period.  D Mikhail Sergachev put the biscuit in the basket to cut the Columbus advantage to 3-1.

The Blue Jackets wasted no time in countering that goal at 9:06.  Columbus notched an insurance marker at 12:15 to make the final arithmetic 5-1.

G Bobrovsky made 23 saves in securing the win.  #88 made 22 saves in a losing effort.

So, at the conclusion of Game 2, it is painfully obvious that the Bolts have no answer for the strategy employed by Columbus Coach  Tortorella.  Plus, F Nikita Kucherov, the odds-on favorite to win the MVP, will not be available due to league suspension.  Also, whether D Hedman and D Anton Stralman can play in Game 3 will be a game time decision.

It’s going to be an uphill road for the Bolts, that’s for sure.  Not impossible, but the Lightning need a win desperately.

Tampa Bay does not want to go down 3-0.  That’s a hole that not many teams crawl out of.

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS : QUARTERFINALS : GAME 3 RECAP

By Leo Haggerty

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (L 3-1)

Tampa Bay came out on the short end of a 3-1 count against Columbus at the Nationwide Arena in Game 3. With that being said, you have no idea how tempted I am to just write “See Game 2 – The Minnesota Postulate” and stop there but I will not go down that road today.

Again, the Blue Jackets followed that script to the letter and that’s to score first. After a scoreless opening 20 minutes, Columbus struck at 1:44 of the middle period to take a 1-0 advantage.

The Ohio Gang implemented Phase 2 immediately. If you have forgotten what that happens to be, let me refresh your memory.

When you have the lead, you sink everyone back into your own zone to clog up the shooting lanes as well as prevent any odd-man rushes.  Also, the only time you attack is when you have the man advantage on a power-play or you have a breakout with numbers in your favor.

That situation presented itself at 6:50 when the Bolts Ryan Callahan was whistled for interference.  Columbus took advantage of that with a power-play goal at 8:25 of the second period.  Both teams went to the second intermission with Tampa Bay on the short end of a 2-0 count.

The third period was, by far, the best for the Lightning but Columbus was initiating Phase 3 and that’s have your goalie stand on his head. Tampa Bay peppered Blue Jackets G  Bobrovsky with 17 shots and one finally found the back of the net at 4:40.  F Ondrej Palat (1) lit the lamp to move the Bolts within a goal at 2-1.

Unfortunately, the Bolts couldn’t get any more pucks behind the Columbus net minder.  Also, the Blue Jackets posted an empty-net marker at 19:00 to make the final score 3-1.

Tampa Bay G Vasilevskiy made 28 saves in defeat.  #72 stopped 30 shots in posting his third win of the series.

So, the Lightning have their backs to the wall, down 3-0, with Game 4 in Columbus.  A huge problem for the Bolts is that defenseman Hedman  and Stralman were both MIA for Game 3 and the prognosis for their return for Game 4 is extremely bleak.

That doesn’t bode well for Tampa Bay as they try to stave off elimination.  With Kucherov back after a one-game suspension, I look for the Lightning to put forth a maximum effort to get the series back to Amalie Arena for Game 5.

Will that transpire?  Tune in, Bolts fans, and see for yourself.

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS : QUARTERFINALS : GAME 4 RECAP

By Leo Haggerty

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (L 7-4)

In Game 4, Columbus defeated Tampa Bay 7-4 at Nationwide Arena.  This completed the unimaginable four-game sweep by the 8th-seed Blue Jackets over the top-seeded Lightning.

As in the last three contests, Columbus stuck to the game plan and the initial phase was scoring first.  The Blue Jackets, taking advantage of a Bolts penalty early in the first period, scored a power-play play goal at 2:26.

Columbus managed to get a second puck past Lightning G Vasilevskiy just 82 seconds later to give the Blue Jackets a two goal lead.  This was the exact same scenario that occurred in Game 3 and that didn’t bode well for the Bolts at that time.

Stamkos (1) cut the margin in half at 8:44 of the opening period.  Both team went to the locker room for the first intermission with Tampa Bay down 2-1.

Columbus increased their margin to 3-1 at 6:28 of the middle period.  At that point, the Bolts could have folded the tent and started making tee times but, to their credit, that didn’t happen.

Tampa Bay scored the next two goals to knot the score at threes.  F Cedric Paquette (1) lit the lamp at 13:03 and F Brayden Point (1) followed with a power-play marker to bring the Lightning all the way back at 17:52 giving the Bolts hope.

That hope was quickly extinguished by Columbus just 54 seconds later.  After 40 minutes, the Blue Jackets still clung to a 4-3 lead.

In the third period, both goalies made save after save to keep their team in the hunt.  Finally, Tampa Bay Coach Jon Cooper was forced to pull #88 out of the net for the extra attacker with just over two minutes remaining in regulation to try and get the equalizing goal.

Unfortunately, that strategy failed as Columbus score three empty-net goals from 18:07 to 19:51.  That made the final arithmetic 7-4 in favor of the Blue Jackets.

Bolts G Vasilevskiy stopped 21 shots in defeat. Bobrovsky, who was the MVP of the series in my mind, made 30 saves to secure the victory.

So, Columbus survives and advances to the Eastern Conference semifinals.  Tampa Bay, on the other hand, goes home and will try to access the damage and figure out how the best team in the National Hockey League can be disposed of so easily in four games.

I’ll give my opinion on that after the Stanley Cup champion is crowned.  Trust me, I have a pretty good idea of what I’m going to say right now but I don’t want to give a knee-jerk reaction to the horrific loss.

Look for that article around the end of May.  Until then, enjoy the run for the Cup even though the Bolts are no longer a factor.