Coming off of what could be called one of their signature wins against the Edmonton Oilers on Sunday, the Columbus Blue Jackets hit the road tonight to visit another high flying team – and back to back defending Stanley Cup Champions – the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Blue Jackets will enter tonight’s game with a laundry list of injuries and absences, including talented forwards Patrik Laine, Alexandre Texier, captain Boone Jenner, Adam Boqvist, as well as backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. Zach Werenski will return tonight after practicing with the team over the weekend, but it is yet to be seen if he will play again this season. Still, the season is far from over for the team, as younger players seek to grind out an edge heading into the summer and, inevitably, next season.
One player to watch is surprising rookie Nick Blankenburg, who worked his way into the team’s second pairing in his first game in the NHL. Playing a solid game at both ends of the rink, Nick potted his first NHL goal on Sunday – one that would stand as the game winner – and added an assist. He’s been eye opening in all of the right ways for a team that has had a glaring hole on the second pairing all season.
With such an inexperienced roster, it’s no surprise that the Jackets are struggling, with just a 1-3-1 record in their last six games. Unfortunately for the Blue Jackets, things do not get much easier as they now face a home and home series against the Lightning, before finishing off the season against the Pittsburgh Penguins – on the second half of a back to back, no less – on Friday.
The Lightning are flying high, coming into tonight’s game having won two games in a row in which they scored 8 goals apiece – and winners of 5 of their last 6 games. The Bolts are led by the usual suspects, including captain and leading scorer Steven Stamkos, whose 97 points have him just one off of his career high. The Jackets will look to at least slow the deep Tampa Bay offense, and will have to work hard to find the back of the net against one of the best goaltenders in the NHL, Andrei Vasilevskiy.
These two teams have gone in very different directions since the CBJ’s unlikely sweep of the then-President’s Trophy winners in 2019. The Jackets find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture, eyeing the future – while the Bolts stare down another potentially deep playoff run, with hopes of a third straight Stanley Cup. While the standings are nearly set, if the Jackets can hold Tampa Bay to less than 4 points over these next two games, they will spoil the Lightning’s chances of having home ice advantage in the first round.
The task may seem daunting, but the Jackets seem to give the Lightning as much trouble as any other team in the league, though it should be noted that the Bolts won the only other game thus far this season by a 7-2 margin. If the team plays a smart game and keeps the right players in check as they did on Sunday, this should be a fun one to watch.