Jackets search for offensive spark against Lightning

NHL Hockey

The Columbus Blue Jackets know they need a more consistent offensive performance to win Game 4 on Monday and even their Eastern Conference first-round series with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Game 3 on Saturday saw Tampa Bay record a 3-2 victory and take a 2-1 lead in the series being played in Toronto. Alex Killorn, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman all scored for the Lightning, who outshot Columbus by a 34-17 margin (16-4 in the second period).

The Blue Jackets have been outshot in six of their eight games during this postseason, including all three games against Tampa Bay. For much of the playoffs, Columbus has been able to withstand this pressure, leaving opponents frustrated at their inability to capitalize.

Ironically, it seemed like the Jackets themselves fell victim to this frustration in Game 3. Thanks in part to three Lightning penalties, Columbus had nine shots in the first 10 minutes, with head coach John Tortorella describing this stretch as part of “probably our best 11 to 12 minutes of the series so far.”

The early surge didn’t result in any goals, however, and the Blue Jackets managed only eight shots (albeit with two goals) over the final 50 minutes of play.

In Tortorella’s view, the 122 minutes of overtime the Jackets have played this postseason finally began to wear on the team.

“Hitting a wall with all the hockey that we’ve played, I have to figure that’s what (happened in Game 3). … From the 12-minute mark of the first period, we’re not the team we need to be, obviously, in the series,” Tortorella said.

The 17 shots matched the Jackets’ lowest shot total in a game during the entire 2019-20 regular season.

From the Lightning’s perspective, while Game 3 was a one-sided performance in terms of chances and puck possession, it was still only a one-goal game.

“This is a tight series. That, again, was a tight game,” Point said. “We can look back and take the positives from (Game 3) and try to take that forward to the next one but it’s about trying to stay even-keeled — not get too high, not get too low.”

Point’s second-period goal extended his points streak to seven postseason games. Dating back to the 2019 playoffs, Point has eight points (five goals, three assists) over the seven-game stretch.

Nikita Kucherov had an assist in Game 3, giving him 67 career playoff points in a Lightning uniform. Kucherov is one point away from tying Martin St. Louis’ franchise record for postseason points.

Lightning rookie Carter Verhaeghe recorded an assist in his first career playoff game. Verhaeghe was inserted into the lineup in place of Mitchell Stephens, who was held without a point in Tampa Bay’s previous four games.

Andrei Vasilevskiy is likely to again start for the Lightning in Game 4. The goaltender has a 4-2-0 record, 1.86 goals against average, and .927 save percentage in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo stopped 31 of 34 shots in Game 3 for his latest strong effort of the postseason. Korpisalo has a 1.51 GAA and .956 save percentage over seven playoff games.

Cam Atkinson and Nathan Gerbe are both questionable for Game 4. The two Columbus forwards missed the last two games due to undisclosed injuries.

Game 5 is scheduled for Wednesday, with the Lightning as the designated home team in Toronto.

–Field Level Media

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