Don’t let the final score fool you. At first glance, seeing a 3-2 final on the scoreboard might conjure up images of a back-and-forth game that came down to the wire. While Game 3 of the first round series between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets ended with a 3-2 victory for the Lightning, the score was the only thing that was really close about this contest.
Following a rather deflating Game 2 loss to the Blue Jackets in which they started off strong and finished with a whimper, Tampa Bay turned things around in Game 3. Following a 10-minute stretch in which they were under siege in the opening period, the Bolts turned it around and controlled play for the rest of the contest. Overall, Tampa Bay finished with a 34-17 edge in shots on goal. Per Natural Stat Trick, the Lightning finished the evening with 74 shot attempts compared to 34 for the Blue Jackets. At 5-on-5, the shot attempts were an incredibly lopsided 66-23 for Tampa Bay. Overall, the Bolts held the Jackets to seven shots on goal over the final two periods.
Over the final 50 minutes of this contest, Tampa Bay’s puck retrieval, puck possession, and net-front presence were superior. For the most part, they made wise decisions with puck management, dictating the flow of play and creating chances while maintaining a physical presence as well. Overall, this was the Lightning’s most impressive performance of the 2020 playoffs so far.
The penalty kill, timely saves, and a certain social media influencer give the Lightning the lead
In Game 2, Tampa Bay dominated the first 10 minutes of the opening period, only to see the Blue Jackets kill off a power play and build momentum towards a goal. Game 3 saw a similar, yet slightly different script play out with the roles reversed. Despite finishing with a 10-8 shot advantage after 20 minutes, the Blue Jackets held a 9-2 edge at one point in the period.
Early on, they continued to frustrate the Lightning by taking away the middle of the ice, tilting play towards Tampa Bay’s zone. On top of this, Columbus also found themselves on two power plays, including a 5-on-3 that lasted for 1:26. Bolts goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy made a few notable stops and looked sharp. However, he also received a little help. Emil Bemstrom rang a shot off the post with a yawning net that would’ve given the Jackets the lead. Victor Hedman also made a tremendous play to break up a backdoor pass that would’ve resulted in a Grade A chance.
Tampa Bay slowly built off the momentum from killing those penalties, eventually leading to Alex Killorn, the aforementioned influencer, breaking the ice with his second goal of the playoffs. Following a turnover by Liam Foudy in the neutral zone, Zach Bogosian dished the puck to Anthony Cirelli. Cirelli promptly fed it to Killorn, leading to a 2-on-1. Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo expected pass the whole way, and Killorn took advantage, sliding the puck through Korpisalo’s legs with 4:12 to go in the period. With the assist, Bogosian earned the first playoff point of his career. While the Bolts created more shot attempts in the first period, Columbus possessed a clear advantage in quality of shots.
☑️ goal by Killer
☑️ first career playoff point for Bogo! pic.twitter.com/RuXG0JChAH
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) August 16, 2020
Strong second period gives the Bolts breathing room
At the 1:49 mark of the second period, Columbus tied the contest 1-1 following a 3-on-1 rush. Erik Cernak pinched into the offensive zone, but turned the puck over. The Jackets were off to the races, with Riley Nash holding on to the puck. Even though he had options, Nash fired one past Vasilevskiy for his first goal of the postseason. Despite surrendering that goal, Tampa Bay didn’t panic. Their puck possession game and puck retrieval were outstanding in this period, as they out-shot Columbus 16-4 in the middle stanza. Korpisalo did his part, making a few solid saves, including this stop on Barclay Goodrow.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) August 16, 2020
Despite this save, and a few others, the Bolts kept coming in waves. Eventually, their efforts paid off with 5:44 to go in the period. Point won an offensive zone faceoff with Nikita Kucherov gaining possession. He worked the puck to Ryan McDonagh, who walked into the left circle and put a shot on net. Korpisalo kicked the rebound out, but Point was in the right place, pouncing on the loose puck and scoring his fourth goal of the playoffs to make it 2-1 Lightning. The scales began to really tip in Tampa Bay’s favor at this point, and the Lightning tacked on another goal with 1:07 left.
Carter Verhaeghe, in the lineup in place of Mitchell Stephens, intercepted a pass in the neutral zone, working it to Cedric Paquette. Paquette then handed it back to Verhaeghe, who led the offensive attack. Verhaeghe found a trailing Hedman with an excellent setup. Hedman collected the pass, wiring a shot past Korpisalo for his first goal of the playoffs, giving the Bolts a 3-1 lead and a much-needed cushion. Verhaeghe earned his first career playoff point with the assist.
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) August 16, 2020
That goal closed out what was easily Tampa Bay’s most dominant period of the series up to this point.
Closing out a Game 3 victory by not sitting back on the lead
It took Columbus only 1:37 to cut the Lightning’s lead to 3-2, as Eric Robinson’s shot hit traffic in front of the Lightning net. Vasilevskiy appeared to lose track of it, but Robinson followed up on the loose puck and fired it home for his first goal of this postseason. While the Lightning could have lost that composure and momentum after that goal, that remained disciplined in their structure. They continued to press the attack and out-shot the Jackets 10-3 in the final period. Instead of forcing passes to the middle of the ice looking for highlight-reel plays, they kept it simple. The Bolts kept grinding out puck possession in the offensive zone, played solid defensive hockey, and still managed to create chances while attempting to extend their lead.
Although Columbus pulled Korpisalo for an extra attacker late, it was Tampa Bay who kept pushing the pace, as Goodrow and Point each hit the same post on attempts at the open cage. When it was all said and done, the Lightning earned a 2-1 series lead over the Blue Jackets.
Game 4 takes place Monday afternoon in Toronto at 3 pm EST on Fox Sports Sun and NBCSN.
Our Three Stars of the Game
1st Star: Victor Hedman – Finished with the game-winning goal and four shots on goal in 22:19 of ice time.
2nd Star: Brayden Point – Tallied his fourth of the playoffs, putting the Lightning up 2-1 late in the second period.
3rd Star: Ryan McDonagh – One assist and a game-high six shots on goal. Led the Lightning with 23:44 of ice time.
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