Tampa Bay Lightning on the verge of elimination after 3-1 loss in Game 3

COLUMBUS, OH - APRIL 14: Seth Jones #3 of the Columbus Blue Jackets knocks down Erik Cernak #81 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period of Game Three of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 14, 2019 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus defeated Tampa Bay 3-1 to take a 3-0 series lead. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
COLUMBUS, OH - APRIL 14: Seth Jones #3 of the Columbus Blue Jackets knocks down Erik Cernak #81 of the Tampa Bay Lightning during the third period of Game Three of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 14, 2019 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Columbus defeated Tampa Bay 3-1 to take a 3-0 series lead. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Lightning has pushed themselves to the verge of elimination as they fell 3-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 3 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Tampa Bay Lightning had an uphill battle in front of them as they made their way into the Nationwide Arena for Game 3 tonight. A less-than-stellar performance by the Lightning allowed the Columbus Blue Jackets to take a 2-0 lead in the series heading into tonight’s contest.

Let’s add in the fact that Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who hasn’t looked like himself since taking the ice in Game 1, would miss Sunday’s game along with Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, who missed Game 3 after being suspended for his hit on Blue Jackets forward Markus Nutivaara in Game 2.

If there was any sort of positive which could be taken away from this it’s that Kucherov’s suspension allowed for the Tampa Bay Lightning to get Ryan Callahan into the lineup. Callahan has been playing very well lately and could potentially be a difference-maker for the Lightning in this series.

Based solely on puck possession and shots on goal, the Blue Jackets seemed to control the pace of the game through the first half of the first period. The Lightning was outshot by the Blue Jackets 3-8 through the first 10 minutes of play. This lack of offensive aggression is not going to get them back in the series.

Tempers reached a boiling point late in the first period. Adam Erne and Ryan Dzingel got into it along the boards which set the stage for a lot of pushing and shoving between the Lightning and Blue Jackets. The teams would find themselves in a 4-on-4 situation as Callahan and Dzingel would each get two for Roughing.

In the final seconds of the 4-on-4, the Lightning had an excellent scoring chance from Anthony Cirelli. Unfortunately, the puck would ricochet off the crossbar and out of play. With this, the penalty would end and both teams would be back at full strength.

When the buzzer sounded to end the first period of play, the Lightning and Blue Jackets would remain scoreless. This was definitely not for a lack of effort on the part of the Blue Jackets. Columbus outshot the Bolts 3-12 in the first 20 minutes of play.

The Blue Jackets also controlled the faceoff circle in the first period. Columbus outshined the Lightning 41-59 in the faceoff circle. While this is definitely not a good look for the Lightning considering the way they’ve been playing in the last five periods of hockey, this could’ve been much worse.

The sheer fact the Lightning held the Blue Jackets off the scoresheet altogether in the first period is an accomplishment in itself. Judging by the way these two teams played up until this point in the game, it would be easy to assume the first team to score would have a distinct advantage.

The Lightning had a tremendous scoring chance in the opening minute of the second period, but they simply couldn’t manage to get the job done. Regrettably for the Lightning, it wouldn’t be long before the Blue Jackets would make their move.

Matt Duchene would pick up his second goal of the postseason to give the Blue Jackets the lead. The lone assist on the Duchene goal would go to Zach Werenski. As the new guy on the team, Duchene has been making a noticeable effort to make a difference for the Blue Jackets.

The Lightning found themselves in a compromising position in the first half of the second period. The Bolts would end up on their second Penalty Kill of the night as Ryan Callahan was sent to the sin bin for two minutes for Interference.

For the first minute and a half of the Penalty Kill, the Lightning would do a good job of limiting the Blue Jackets opportunities. After that, it was essentially all downhill. With less than 30 seconds left in the penalty to Callahan, Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand would pick up his first goal of the postseason to extend Columbus’ lead over the Lightning to two.

This is where the Lightning would find themselves when the buzzer sounded to end the second period. Literally, the only upside in the second period of play is the Lightning made up some ground in the shots on goal department. The Lightning outshot the Blue Jackets 11-10 in the second period for a two-period total of 14-23 in favor of Columbus.

Between the second and third periods, the rain started coming down here in the Bolts Nation. Many fans wondered if this would be a good omen for the Bolts heading into the third. While it may not have been the miracle Lightning fans were looking for, something definitely happened during intermission.

The Lightning seemed to be playing with a lot more urgency in the third period. In the early moments of the third, the Lightning’s newfound efforts paid off. Ondrej Palat picked up his first goal of the postseason to get the Lightning on the board. The assists on Palat’s goal would go to Erik Cernak and Tyler Johnson.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay Lightning /

Tampa Bay Lightning

This was definitely a good start of the Bolts in the third period, especially given the way they’ve played in the last seven periods of hockey. While this was good in and of itself, there was still plenty of work to be done if the Lightning wanted to get back in this series.

One more goal would force an overtime period, but it would take two goals to bring home a much-needed victory. At the time of the Palat goal, there was still plenty of time to get the job done. The Lightning had the skill, but did they have the passion and determination?

The Lightning seemed to keep the pressure on as the period pressed on. Unfortunately, the Bolts simply couldn’t capitalize on the momentum they gained from the Palat goal. As the time continued to tick off the clock, the pressure to score the tying goal mounted.

There were about two minutes left in the period when Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper would pull goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy in order to get an extra attacker on the ice. Regrettably, this would wind up biting the Lightning in the behind.

Cam Atkinson would hit the empty net for his second goal of the postseason all but seal the deal for the Blue Jackets with assists from Artemi Panarin and Scott Harrington. This would give the Blue Jackets a 3-1 lead over the struggling Bolts.

Despite finding their fire in the third period, the Lightning would fall once again. The Columbus Blue Jackets would take a definitive 3-0 series lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning. Needless to say, this is becoming a terrible trend here in the Bolts Nation.

1. 23. 3. 113. Final

At some point, the Tampa Bay Lightning has to have a serious discussion with Jon Cooper about the direction the team has taken. There hasn’t been a single shred of accountability for the players on the ice.

In addition to this, it wasn’t until the final moments of the third period in Game 3 when Coach Cooper actually started to make some real adjustments on the ice. This is where Coach Cooper differs exponentially from a coach like John Tortorella and it may very well be the Lightning’s downfall in the series.

The Lightning has officially backed themselves against a wall with Sunday night’s Game 3 loss to the Blue Jackets. If the Bolts have any hopes of keeping their playoff hopes alive, they must win the next four games straight. Is it possible? Yes, yes, it is. Is it probable? The jury is still out on this one.

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The series continues on Tuesday night as the Lightning takes on the Blue Jackets in a must-win Game 4. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7:00 p.m. It’s going to take a miracle at this point for the Bolts to even hope of making it to the next round. Here’s hoping Sunday night was an eye-opener for the Bolts.