When I wrote my article after the miraculous comeback in game one, I had absolutely no idea what was about to transpire in the series ahead. I was oh so happy to steal a game in Tampa, but the pessimist in me feared this might be the only good thing the Jackets could accomplish in this series before the Tampa behemoth woke up.
So, I came into game two with lowered expectations. The national pundits kept talking about how game one was a fluke and how Tampa would get it together and assert their dominance. And I believed them because I thought there was no way Tampa would allow themselves to play that poorly again.
But what actually happened in game two may have been more surprising and astounding than game one’s comeback. The Blue Jackets completely and totally dominated in all facets of play: their forecheck outworked Tampa and led to some quality shots on goal (which they converted to goals), while their defense wouldn’t even allow Tampa to even get into the offensive zone.
I was completely stunned at how the league’s best team, a team which tied the record for most wins in a regular season, was getting completely outworked, out-willed, and just outplayed. It was almost like the Jackets were the team that ran away with the President’s Trophy, while the Lightning seemed like the wild card team.
After that game, I had a good feeling about the rest of the series as a Jackets fan. The way the Jackets completely dominated Tampa was different than last season’s 2-0 series lead, where both games were comeback victories in overtime. There was no way the Jackets would give up this series if they continued to play the way they did in game two, and with a couple of Tampa’s stars out (Kucherov and Hedman), we had to take advantage in game three.
Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. It was another domination at the hands of the Jackets, similar to game two. The Lightning, once again, were stifled in the neutral zone by the Jackets, knocking them off their game, while they had no answer for the Jackets’ physical forecheck at the other end. And just like that, the Blue Jackets were up 3-0 and looking for the sweep.
Once again, all the pundits talked about how if any team could come back and win this series, it would be Tampa. But my thought coming into game four was that Tampa would not have the heart and will to come back and win the series, and Columbus would not be denied their first ever playoff series victory.
And so, it happened. The Bolts put up a valiant fight, and some things started to go their way: the top players started producing goals and points, the power play started working again, and Vasilevskiy made some spectacular saves. But it was too little too late, as once Bjorkstrand scored that goal on the delayed penalty to break the tie, it was over for Tampa. And finally, after nineteen long years in Columbus, the Blue Jackets would be moving past the first round of the playoffs.
I still don’t know if I or anyone actually comprehend the magnitude of what we saw in this series. The Lightning were hands-down the best team in the regular season, having one of the best regular seasons ever recorded in NHL history. They were loaded with elite talent throughout the lineup: Nikita Kucherov had the most points of any player since Mario Lemieux in 1996; the rest of their offense was peppered with prolific scorers throughout; their defense was led by defending Norris trophy winner Victor Hedman another number one defenseman in Ryan McDonagh; their goaltender Andrei Vasilveskiy was the hands-on favorite to win the Vezina trophy. And all that talent couldn’t even win a game in the postseason. Not a single game.
To get swept with the amount of firepower and talent the Lightning had was nothing short of a spectacular collapse by Tampa and a miraculous upset by Columbus. With just how good that team was and how much of a favorite they were, it is certainly one of the all-time greatest upsets in NHL history, even sports history. It certainly ranks up there with the Kings’ “Miracle on Manchester” upset of the Oilers in 1982, the Sharks’ upset of the Red Wings in 1994, and the Capitals’ choking to the Canadiens in 2010 in terms of all-time upsets.
So now, the Blue Jackets rest, get healthy and wait for their next opponent, the winner of Boston versus Toronto. They know the road ahead will be tough but have the confidence of having gotten over the hump in round one. And what a way to do so, sweeping one of the greatest regular season teams in one of the greatest upsets ever. Even if they bow out next round, this is the greatest moment in Blue Jackets history and one that will never be forgotten by Jackets fans or even hockey fans in general.