The Columbus Blue Jackets made it much easier Thursday on goaltender Joonas Korpisalo in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference playoff series against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now they look to continue that trend over the weekend.
The Blue Jackets evened their best-of-seven series with Tampa Bay at one win apiece behind a strong defensive showing and superb 36-save effort from Korpisalo in a 3-1 win.
The two teams meet in Game 3 on Saturday night at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET.
Korpisalo, 26, stole the show in Game 1 with an NHL-record 85 saves in the fourth-longest game in league history, but coach John Tortorella’s group fell 3-2 to Tampa Bay and needed a bounce-back effort in Game 2.
While the goalie was again top notch and put his club in position to win, it was forward Alexander Wennberg executing the most dazzling goal of the playoffs to give Columbus the breathing room it needed late in the contest.
With his team clinging to a 2-1 lead in the third period, the Swedish center took a pass through the neutral zone from rookie Liam Foudy and passed the puck to himself through his legs and off his right skate to smoothly slide around defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk.
Wennberg, who was criticized and demoted to the fourth line by Tortorella in the previous series against Toronto, then beat goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy on the blocker side for the insurance tally with 8:33 remaining.
“It’s not often it works that great. I’m happy it did this one time,” the 25-year-old Wennberg told reporters.
High-scoring right winger Cam Atkinson and center Nathan Gerbe were both unfit to play and did not dress Thursday, with Emil Bemstrom and Devin Shore drawing into the lineup.
The Lightning lost the battle of special teams, as well — the Blue Jackets went 1-for-3 on the power play while Tampa Bay was 0-for-2. Though the Lightning outhit them 38-15, Tortorella’s defenders filled the shooting lanes in front of Korpisalo and led 21-14 in blocked shots.
Columbus’ Pierre-Luc Dubois scored on the power play in Game 1 and Oliver Bjorkstrand tallied a man up in Game 2 — both occurring on the club’s first man advantage.
“They’re winning the special-teams battle, and that’s on the whole group,” said Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh. “We’ve got to take pride in that and be better. It’s something where we’ve got to be sharp on the first penalty kill. They scored on the first power play in the first game and again here tonight. We’ve got be really sharp and move fast in our structure.”
After outlasting Columbus in Tuesday’s epic five-overtime 3-2 victory, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said his side came out the way it wanted to after grabbing an early lead on Nikita Kucherov’s marker.
“I think we had an exceptional start, and we did everything we wanted to. We dictated play, and we scored that first goal. To be honest with you, we might’ve gotten a little comfortable,” Cooper said of Kucherov’s goal just 5:24 into Game 2.
“The second that happens to you, what happens tonight can get you. We kind of lost our mojo a little bit.”
On Friday, Cooper had little to say of captain Steven Stamkos, who hasn’t participated in the playoffs and doesn’t appear to be close to playing.
“He’s rehabbing,” Cooper said. “That’s all I can say.”
–Field Level Media