The Columbus Blue Jackets, Tampa’s newest divisional rival handed the Lightning their first loss of the season defeating Tampa Bay 5-2. Motivated by their overtime loss on Thursday Columbus played hard and inspired hockey. However, Tampa Bay did not play to their potential. They were sloppy with the puck at times and Andrei Vasilevskiy had an off night. Despite battling until the end, the Lightning fall to 3-1 and fly home to await instructions.
The Lightning committed several key turnovers that resulted in goals against rival Columbus. The first one gave the Jackets the lead for good. Pat Maroon lost the puck in the neutral zone allowing Columbus to dump and retrieve. Liam Foudy was able to find Vladislav Gavrikov in the slot who wristed one past Vasilevskiy to give the Jackets a 3-1 lead late in the first. This would turn out to be the game-winner. There were several other turnovers throughout that would lead to Columbus opportunities. One includuing Mikhail Sergachev who tried to make a move in front of his own net and fanned where a Jacket picked it up and came in alone on Vasilevskiy.
Not that there are excuses for committing turnovers, but the ice was notably bad in Columbus this afternoon. The puck bounced all of the ice making tape-to-tape passes difficult and many players unexplainably lost their edges and fell. It is possible that this was the reason for Cernak’s wipeout that caused him to exit the contest.
Rival loses distraction, gains a star
Breaking news came out of the Jackets front office before today’s game. Blue Jackets’ star Pierre-Luc Dubois was traded with a 3rd round pick to the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for Patrick Laine and Jack Roslovic. It is well known that Dubois was unhappy in Columbus and asked for a trade shortly after signing his contract. It had been a notable distraction for the team ever since. Thursday he was benched for the second and third periods in a loss to Tampa Bay, which motivated the front office to get a deal done. With the deal announced hours before the game, Columbus played like a weight had come off their shoulders. With a locker room distraction gone, and the excitement of gaining a offensive weapon such as Laine, the Blue Jackets had an inspired performance. They played their usually gritty style and shut the door when they had the lead.
Solid effort and injuries
Despite not playing their best game, Tampa Bay did not play poorly. They outplayed Columbus at points in this game and had numerous opportunities to tie. Despite not walking away with a win, key players picked up points. Victor Hedman picked up his first goal of the season to give the Lightning an early lead. A puck deflected to him off a rush and he ways able to fling a backhander between his legs that found its past Elvis Merzlikins. The power play was also able to cash in late in the first period. Columbus was focused on Brayden Point at the half wall, and in doing so they left Ondrej Palat all alone on the far post who tapped it in for his third of the season. This was the last tally the Lightning would muster but not due to lack of effort, as Merzlikins made a sprawling save on Point in the third to maintain Columbus’ one goal lead.
There were two significant injuries this afternoon. Early in the first, Cernak took an elbow to the head and slammed into the boards. He saw one more shift, where he lost an edge and wiped out. He did not return. Then in the third period, Mitchell Stephens suffered what appears to be a long term knee injury. Stephens was dragged down from behind while his leg was caught under a Columbus player. According to coach Jon Cooper it “doesn’t look like he’s coming back anytime soon” and that Cernak will require further evaluation. Although the Lightning the loss of Stephens is not season changing, Cernak will be harder to cover for if he is out long term. Luke Schenn is the next man up and Cal Foote would be expected to have an increased role.
The Lightning are scheduled to faceoff against their former southeast rival the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday. However, Carolina has been experiencing Covid related issues. There is a chance that the game will be postponed. Regardless, the Lightning traveled home following the game and will have Sunday off. Reportedly, this is to give players a chance to watch the Buccaneers play in the NFC championship game with their families. A very cool and classy move made by the organization. Their next games after the two with Carolina is a pair of home games against the Nashville Predators.
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