The Columbus Blue Jackets and Tampa Bay Lightning are heading in opposite directions as their two-game Central Division series prepares to end.
The Lightning won for the third time in three games this season with a 3-2 overtime victory on Thursday. The two sides meet Saturday afternoon in Columbus, Ohio, to conclude what is expected to be another slugfest of hard knocks, short-tempered, edgy play and strong goaltending.
And the Blue Jackets — winners just once in five games and on the losing side of consecutive overtime decisions — go into the game against the reigning Stanley Cup champions without one of their standouts: Pierre-Luc Dubois.
The Jackets traded the 22-year-old Dubois to the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday morning in exchange for right winger Patrik Laine and center Jack Roslovic. The Jets also will receive a 2022 third-round draft pick.
Dubois, the top-line center, found his way into coach John Tortorella’s doghouse, so much so that Dubois problem became a major issue within the organization. Dubois skated just five shifts — 3:55 of ice time — in Thursday’s game, which Columbus tied in the third period on captain Nick Foligno’s power-play goal. Dubois sat on the bench in the final 40-plus minutes after his final shift in the first period.
Not having your top forward on the ice with the home opener on the line didn’t seem to be a problem for Tortorella, who will be down a man for at least a few games.
“Told you,” Tortorella replied when asked about benching the Quebec native. “It’s not difficult for me, I’ve got to call them as I see them and just go about our business on the bench and try to win a hockey game.”
When Laine will arrive in Columbus is still to be determined because of cross-border and quarantine issues amid the coronavirus pandemic. Roslovic agreed to a two-year, $3.8 million to play for his hometown Blue Jackets but won’t be suited up for Saturday.
The Blue Jackets will use the players they have against Tampa Bay and Brayden Point, who gave Columbus a strong sense of deja vu on Thursday.
The strong goaltending and physicality of the teams’ first division contest resembled Game 1 of last postseason when the Lightning won 3-2 behind Point’s game-winner in the fifth overtime — the fourth-longest game in NHL history.
The Lightning squandered a 2-1 lead in the third period before Point — on a cross-ice pass from defenseman Victor Hedman — chipped in the game-winning tally past Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo.
“I didn’t get all of it, but I was lucky enough it kind of bounced the right way and goes in. What a great feed by (Hedman),” Point said.
Tampa Bay has won eight consecutive games over the Blue Jackets in the regular season.
“We’re pretty used to each other,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Nine playoff games in the last two years. We’ve played them a lot. So we’re pretty familiar with each other.”
The most inconsistent part of the Lightning right now may be their schedule.
They are slated to play Carolina in Raleigh, N.C. next Tuesday and Thursday, but the Hurricanes had to postpone their two games this week against Florida due to COVID-19 protocol, casting doubt on next week’s play.
–Field Level Media