Columbus Blue Jackets seek to rebound against Tampa Bay Lightning

Mar 28, 2021; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Red Wings left wing Darren Helm (43) shoots the puck on Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins (90) in the second period at Little Caesars Arena. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Of the eight teams competing in the NHL’s Central Division, none might have had a worse weekend in the standings than the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Vying for one of the division’s four playoff spots, Columbus won’t find the task any easier on Florida’s west coast when it faces the Tampa Bay Lightning in a pair of games Tuesday and Thursday.

After two meetings against the Lightning in the first 10 days of the season, the Blue Jackets hold a 1-0-1 mark. Tuesday’s match is their first in Tampa, where they will compete three more times, including games on April 22 and 25. The teams also will meet twice next week in Columbus.

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Coach John Tortorella’s squad lost twice to the last-place Red Wings in Detroit over the weekend — 3-1 Saturday and 4-1 Sunday — in back-to-back blows to its playoff aspirations.

The suddenly slumping Chicago Blackhawks dropped a pair at home in regulation to Nashville and saw their grip on the final playoff spot slip away. The Blackhawks, however, could claim they were facing a red-hot opponent in the Predators, whose five-game winning streak is the NHL’s longest active one.

“I think we played harder today, but we couldn’t make a play,” Tortorella said after Sunday’s loss in Detroit. “We’re trying to win hockey games, and you want your guys playing at their best. But we didn’t make a play. We didn’t make a play. It was a struggle for the past six periods.”

Columbus will be encountering a Lightning side that has lost two consecutive games at Dallas and Carolina after compiling a five-game winning streak that began with a rescheduled match on March 16 against the Stars.

The Hurricanes defeated Tampa Bay in a 4-3 thriller on Saturday night in Raleigh, N.C. — a contest that had a playoff feel to it with the franchise allowing 4,433 fans into PNC Arena.

The first-place Lightning received goals from Blake Coleman, Pat Maroon and Mathieu Joseph, but Carolina’s Martin Necas capped a brilliant four-point night with a power-play game-winner with less than four minutes remaining.

Coach Jon Cooper’s team, which has injuries on its rear guard to Ryan McDonagh (out three games) and Erik Cernak (out two), will be looking to re-establish its style of play that has put the club one point ahead of Carolina in the Central.

During the Lightning’s two-game losing skid, the downfall has been committing penalties and coming up short on the penalty kill.

In the defeats — only the second time this season the Lightning have lost consecutive games in regulation — the Stars were 1-for-3 on the power play while Carolina connected on 2 of 6, with Necas scoring both of the Hurricanes’ man-advantage goals.

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“The penalties killed us, but there’s a reason why we took penalties,” Maroon said. “They were down 2-0 but stuck with it. We’re the ones who got frustrated. They tie it 2-2 and we take another penalty and they make it 3-2. Another penalty and they make it 4-3 at the end.”

Tampa Bay has allowed its two largest shot-totals-against this season in the recent setbacks — Dallas put up a season-high 41 and Carolina nearly matched that with 40.

–Field Level Media