The Blue Jackets don’t care about your bracket.
After the Lightning completed one of the best regular seasons in NHL history, their first-round matchup against Columbus seemed like one of the few you could feel comfortable about. And that seemed to be true, for the first two periods of the series anyway.
Ever since the Blue Jackets assembled a four-goal comeback in the third period of Game 1, Tampa Bay unraveled and was on the losing end of a first-round sweep at the hands of a franchise that has never seen the second round of the playoffs. The Blue Jackets came out with speed and energy in the next two games that the Lightning could never match. And the start to Game 4 was no different.
Columbus had two goals on the board within the first four minutes on Tuesday, thanks to Alexandre Texier and Pierre-Luc Dubois, and it looked like it was going to dominate its way through Game 4 like it did the previous two. Then Steven Stamkos finally decided to show up to the series, and the Lightning managed to finally add some pressure. But just when it looked like Tampa Bay was truly back in the game with two straight goals to even things up in the second period, Oliver Bjorkstrand reestablished Columbus’s lead to give it the edge heading into the final intermission. The third period started with an anxious air on both benches, but Columbus unleashed three more goals to seal the 7–3 win.
Tampa Bay never lost three straight throughout the entire regular season, in which the garnered a record-tying 62 wins and had the league’s highest scorer in Nikita Kucherov. The team account tweeted after the game, “This isn’t the ending we imagined, and certainly not the one we wanted.” It was likely not the ending most others imagined for the Lightning either.
As for Columbus, winning the franchise’s first playoff series by sweeping the Presidents’ Trophy winner in the opening round for the first time in NHL history? John Tortorella has never been known for his subtlety.
ISLANDERS 3, PENGUINS 1
Don’t put the brooms away quite yet. The Islanders managed a feat of their own, sweeping a playoff series for the first time since 1983. The Penguins got out in front first with Jake Guentzel scoring 35 seconds into the game, but like they have all series, the Islanders quickly responded 94 seconds later. Jordan Eberle scored for the fourth straight game and Brock Nelson scored the eventual go-ahead goal at the end of the first period. The Penguins wouldn’t go without a fight, at least not Patric Hornqvist who decided to trade jabs with red-hot goalie Robin Lehner. But the tussle wasn’t enough to jumpstart his team and Pittsburgh was swept for the first time since the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals.
JETS 2, BLUES 1 OT
Home ice has been meaningless in this series and that played to Winnipeg’s advantage. After losing the first two at home, the Jets find themselves back in it, snagging a pair of round wins of their own to even the series up. The first two periods were scoreless, but Vladimir Tarasenko struck quickly to start the third, scoring 35 seconds into the frame with the Blues on the power play. Winnipeg responded a few minutes later when Kyle Connor found Mark Scheifele crashing the net with a perfect feed that Scheifele tipped past Jordan Binnington. The game went into overtime and Connor came through again for Winnipeg, this time with Scheifele collecting his own rebound and dishing it to Connor, who pushed it in for the win.
GOLDEN KNIGHTS 5, SHARKS 0
It was yet another tough start for Martin Jones when Vegas scored early and set the tone for a commanding shutout win. Max Pacioretty scored on the Golden Knights’ first shot, 1:11 into the game and Shea Theodore capped the period with another goal when he split two defensemen and backhanded past Jones, the last shot he’d see. Aaron Dell started in net for the second period, but Vegas didn’t let up and Pacioretty scored his second of the game on the power play. Alex Tuch and Jonathan Marchessault added a couple more in the third period, which also saw a bevy of penalties and the ejection of Evander Kane. Marc-Andre Fleury recorded his 15th career playoff shutout and the Golden Knights head back to the Shark Tank a win away from the second round.
HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT
A major contributing factor to the Lightning’s downfall was how easily they let their frustrations manifest into unnecessary penalties. Just when they tied things up, Mathieu Joseph was called for tripping in Tampa Bay’s offensive zone and the Blue Jackets managed to march the puck up ice thanks to some skillful skating from Artemi Panarin. Playing with an extra skater on the delayed penalty, the Blue Jackets create some chaos and Bjorkstrand emphatically slammed home a rebound that was the eventual game-winner, deflating any momentum the Lightning had built a minute earlier.
1. Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK — Although Vegas grabbed another early lead, San Jose was peppering Fleury with multiple scoring chances within the first period. The veteran goalie stopped 18 shots in the first period to set the tone for the Golden Knights, and made 28 saves en route to his 78th postseason win and 15th postseason shutout.
2. Kyle Connor, WPG — Winnipeg’s top line was the difference maker for Jets in Game 4, with Scheifele and Connor generating endless scoring chances all night. Connor had the set up on Scheifele’s tying goal and also crashed the net to pick up the OT winner that has the Jets heading home with some momentum.
3. Seth Jones, CBJ — The Blue Jackets were strongest in every category throughout the first round, and Jones was one of the players making contributions on all parts of the ice. The blueliner had a goal and an assist on Tuesday, in addition to dishing out hits and blocking shots. Jones had his broom ready to go during warmups and had a major hand in Columbus’s sweep.