This was an unthinkable statement in a series against the 62-win, Presidents Trophy winning, Stanley Cup favorite Tampa Bay Lightning, that could become the reality Tuesday night in Nationwide Arena. There is one more game to win before Columbus is anointed dragon slayer or Cinderella or any other underdog title fit to bestow on them.
TBL had their 2nd best period of hockey in the series in the 3rd period on Sunday. They controlled the play, hit posts and spent the majority of the time in the CBJ zone. The only thing they failed to do was find the equalizing goal.
What could go wrong?
Ask the San Jose Sharks circa 2014. They faced the Kings, had a 3-0 lead and were the last NHL team to lose with 4 chances to eliminate their opponent. Oh, and the Kings went on to win the Cup that year.
TBL has the firepower to make that kind of comeback. Leagues leading scorer, three 40+ goal scorers, Vezina Trophy candidate and Norris Trophy defenseman headline this team. Playoff experience abounds as well with a recent trip to the Cup Finals and two other Eastern Conference Finals. Could the Bolts find a momentum changing moment in Game 4? Yes, but will they?
History favors a team with a 3-0 series lead. Columbus also has the experience of losing 4 straight in a series last year. While TBL started to control the 3rd period of Game 3, they failed to get the game even and momentum seems to have stayed on the side of the Jackets.
Kucherov rejoins the Lightning, but he, Stamkos and Point have yet to register a singe point in the series. If Jon Cooper continues to refuse to make adjustments Game 4 may be more of the same. Duchene and Bobrovsky have been HOT. Cam, Bjorkstrand and Panarin have also had a solid series.
So, how does Columbus win their first series in franchise history?
1. Continue to limit mistakes. C-Bus turnovers have been held to an absolute minimum in the first 3 games. If they do start to turn it over watch out for odd-man rushes and breakaways from the TBL stars.
2. Team defense. Tampa will get scoring chances. Their best chances went off posts in Game 3. Limiting their chances to one-and-done opportunities rather than sustained pressure along with a continued dedication to blocking shots should continue to keep TBL off the scoreboard.
3. Let the puck do the work. This is a hockey cliché that favors good, simple passing over needlessly lugging the puck. Consistent, quality passing can negate the Lightning speed.
Will it be Columbus in 4?
Does TBL have it in them to win this series?