Preview: Lightning at Blue Jackets
The Tampa Bay Lightning return to the place where their season ended abruptly last April as they go for a seventh consecutive victory Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Lightning matched the NHL record with 62 wins during the regular season in 2018-19, but injuries and sloppy play led to a four-game sweep at the hands of the Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs.
Tampa Bay has worked on adjusting its free-wheeling style of play this season and, after a mediocre start, the Lightning have been rolling along with an 18-2-1 record in their last 21 games and own points in eight straight (7-0-1) after a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday. “These are the kind of games that show the growth of our team,” Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman told reporters after his team limited the Islanders to 18 shots. “We can win different ways. We can grind through games and we can (win) high-scoring games. These are the types of games you’re going to see a lot down the stretch.” The Lightning will likely have to play a patient game Monday as Columbus has leaned on its solid play defensively to earn points in 24 out of its last 27 games (19-3-5), but the Blue Jackets must rebound from their first regulation loss in 11 contests Saturday as Colorado rallied for a 2-1 victory with two goals in the final 8:15. “I don’t think we had enough (offense) to be honest,” Columbus defenseman Seth Jones told reporters. “We had little stretches, little spurts, but for the most part we played a lot of defense tonight.”
TIME: 7:30 p.m. ET. TV: NBC Sports Network
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (35-15-5): Reigning Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov had a pair of assists Saturday to push his team-leading total to 67 points and extend his point streak to 10 games, matching the same run by captain Steven Stamkos (team-high 26 goals). Andrei Vasilevskiy has taken over the lead in the league with 29 victories and is 16-0-2 in his last 18 starts while posting a remarkable .945 save percentage since Jan. 1. Hedman has made the scoresheet in just one of the last six contests, but is a plus-21 in his last 21 games, while left wing Ondrej Palat (14 goals) leads the club with a plus-26 overall.
ABOUT THE BLUE JACKETS (30-17-9): Jones scored his sixth goal Saturday to reach 30 points for the fourth straight season, which puts him fourth on the team, and the 25-year-old All Star is two assists from 200 for his career. Center Pierre-Luc Dubois has been kept off the scoresheet in each of the last three contests, but leads the team with 42 points, while Zach Werenski leads all defensemen in the NHL with 17 goals and shares the team lead. Elvis Merzlikins (12-7-4) has been spectacular since Joonas Korpisalo went down with an injury in late in December, registering a .951 save percentage in 15 games (12-3-0).
1. Columbus RW Cam Atkinson is two goals shy of 200 for his career, but has not posted a point in the last seven games.
2. Tampa Bay RW Patrick Maroon (six goals, 17 points) is slated to play his 500th NHL game Monday.
3. The Blue Jackets will recall F Liam Foudy, the 18th pick in the 2018 draft, from London of the Ontario Hockey League and he is expected to make his NHL debut.
PREDICTION: Lightning 4, Blue Jackets 1