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Lightning suffocate Jackets, take control of series

The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1 in game four today. In a low scoring affair, the Lightning got ahead first, then wore down and suffocated the Blue Jackets. They now have a 3-1 series lead and control, one game away from taking their revenge.

Not great, but definitely not bad

The Lighting did not get off to the hottest start in this pivotal game four. It was clear early that Columbus was going to come out swinging.  Just under a minute into the game Zach Werenski cut to the middle and took a backhand shot. Although Andrei Vasilevskiy made the save, the rebound popped right to an open Oliver Bjorkstrand who finished the job. What seemed like a disastrous start, changed on a coach’s challenge  showing Alex Texier was offside. Although Columbus had a slight edge in play for the rest of the period, it was not overwhelming. They did get some opportunities offensively. Despite not getting the offensive start they wanted, the lightning did something more important. They did not give up a goal. They played well in front of there own net, and when there were turnovers, Andrei Vasilevskiy was them to help out. To hold Columbus off the board in that period made up for the lack of offense and puck possession.


Forechecking Extraordinaires

Unlike years past, the Lightning made numerous deals at the trade deadline, acquiring Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman. Those moves are now starting to impact the scoresheet. The Line of Goodrow, Coleman and Yanni Gourde was Tampa’s best line. They were magnificent on the forecheck, getting to lose pucks and winning battles along the boards. Gourde said “we did a good job of getting pucks deep and playing simple”, and  this would pay off. Just 16 seconds into the second period, Coleman won the race to a dump and chipped the puck behind Joonas Korpisalo. Gourde was able to hold a Columbus defender at bay, and kick the puck out to Coleman. He would chip it in front to Goodrow who fired it into an open net.  Just under 4 minutes later Coleman made an filthy move and was able to get the puck to Kevin Shattenkirk who ripped a shot from the point that was tipped in by Gourde.

Lightning lock it Down again

The Lightning in the Cooper era have been known exclusively as an offensively skilled juggernaut. However, as they’ve learned in the past, superior offensive skill does not translate in Stanley Cups. Past Lightning teams have struggled to hold leads, the pinnacle of which was last years first game of the playoffs against the Jackets.  Not this Lightning team. Despite the lead being cut to one in the second, the lightning would not give up another. As in game three, there were stretches of third where the Bolts suffocated the Jackets. Their puck retrieval was great which hemmed Columbus. Although not as consistent (because of Columbus’ desperate need to regain momentum), it did enough to decisively put the Jackets out of their comfort zone. As Columbus thrives playing with the lead, the fact that the Lightning played great collapse defense while also able to control stretches tired an already exhausted blue jackets team.

The Columbus Blue Jackets have played 7 games in the last 12 day. This does not include the over two full games in overtime throughout their series with Toronto and Tampa. That stretch also includes the historic 5OT game one. When asked about it after game three, John Tortorella said “It’s been quite a bit of hockey… it was a whole group of men that struggled tonight”. In game four, getting the lead would’ve been crucial to tying the series. Once behind, Columbus was forced to use more energy to press for offensive. Doing so however plays right into the Lightning’s style of play, further wearing out the Jackets

Looking Forward

The Lightning will look to close out the series Wednesday. Game five is scheduled for 12 noon with pregame starting at 11:30am. Expect to see a level of desperation we have not seen from Columbus this series. John Tortorella’s teams always come ready to play.

Star of the Game: Yanni Gourde

Yanni Gourde was all over ice this afternoon. He picked up a goal and a assist, in addition to being a huge part of Tampa’s best line today.  He was first into the corners and dirty areas and a major part of wearing down the Blue Jackets.

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