Unpresidential: Lightning on brink of elimination vs. Blue Jackets
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Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky made 30 saves to lead Columbus to a 3-1 win over the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday night, lifting the Blue Jackets to a commanding 3-0 lead in their opening-round playoff series.
Cam Atkinson had a goal and an assist, and Matt Duchene and Oliver Bjorkstrand tallied for the Blue Jackets, who have won 10 of their last 11 games, including seven of eight to close the regular season and earn the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Bobrovsky stopped 16 shots in the third period, as Tampa Bay tried to rally from a 2-0 deficit but couldn't do so in front of a raucous crowd at Nationwide Arena.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are on the verge of their first ever playoff series win, but that's hardly the headline in the first-round playoff matchup against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning.
On Sunday, Ondrej Palat scored a goal, and Andrei Vasilevskiy made 27 saves for the Lightning, who dropped their third straight game for the first time this season and have lost five consecutive playoff games.
The Blue Jackets can close out the series in Game 4 in Columbus on Tuesday. Tampa Bay, which tied an NHL single-season record with 62 regular-season wins, will try to avoid being the first-ever Presidents' Trophy winner to be swept in the first round.
"I'm happy about the way we've gone about our business," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said. "We have a lot of work to do. We've got to be really careful here."
Teams that lead a best-of-seven NHL playoff series 3-0 have a series record of 186-4.
"We started to make some plays," Lightning forward Tyler Johnson said. "Throughout the game and throughout the series, I thought we were keeping it too simple in a way. We have a lot of skill in this room, we need to use it."
The Lightning played Game 3 without a pair of major contributors: right winger Nikita Kucherov and defenseman Victor Hedman.
The NHL's leading scorer with 128 points, Kucherov was suspended one game on Saturday for a hard hit on Markus Nutivaara late in Friday's 5-1 home loss.
"(Kucherov) is a big part of our team," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "The leading scorer in the League. He's definitely going to be an MVP finalist, so anytime you take someone like that out of the lineup, as well as Hedman, but I thought we battled."
Hedman, the reigning Norris Trophy winner as the top defenseman, suffered an undisclosed injury, did not skate with the team on Saturday and was scratched.
Columbus opened the scoring after defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski kept the puck alive in the Tampa Bay end early in the second period. Werenski fired a shot that Atkinson redirected, and the puck caromed to the opposite circle, where Duchene swept in a backhander at 1:44 for his second career playoff goal.
Columbus soon made it 2-0 after the Lightning's Ryan Callahan went off for interfering with Werenski.
Bjorkstrand took a pass from Jones and blasted a goal at 8:25, giving the Blue Jackets their fourth marker in eight power plays against the league's top penalty-kill unit.
Tampa Bay finally scored at 4:40 of the third period when Palat put in his own rebound to make it 2-1.
Bobrovsky stopped a pair of quality chances late in the last five minutes before Atkinson scored an empty-netter with one minute left to seal the win.