Lightning Blow Early Three-Goal Lead In Losing Game 1 To Columbus

TAMPA – The first 20 minutes were about as fun as it could get for Lightning fans eagerly anticipating the postseason following a landmark 82-game slate that rewrote the team record book.

The last 20 minutes sent the 200th consecutive sellout crowd at Amalie Arena home wondering what happened.

The Lightning built a 3-0 lead in a first period in which they had Columbus running around in every direction.

John Tortorella’s Blue Jackets, though, were an entirely different team in the second period and often dictated terms the rest of the way in a 4-3 win in Wednesday night’s playoff series opener.

“We played with a lot of emotion in the first period,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. “The building was jumping and we clearly had them on their heels. I think our mentality was that we wanted to outscore them instead of build the lead and shut them down. When you have the mentality that you want to outscore teams, (what happened tonight) are things that can happen.”

The Blue Jackets had an early powerplay with Dan Girardi off for an illegal hit to the head of Brandon Dubinsky. The two then scuffled earning them roughing minors.

Instead of the Blue Jackets striking early on the man advantage, Alex Killorn worked the building into an utter frenzy when he took the puck away from defenseman Seth Jones at the left point and skated in alone on Bobrovsky. Killorn deked the Columbus goalie and put home a backhander on what was Tampa Bay’s first shot on goal.

Anthony Cirelli made it 2-0 when, alone in front of Bobrovsky, he buried a rebound off a blast from Erik Cernak, who made his NHL playoff debut.

The party atmosphere continued when, with 2:10 remaining in the period, Mikhail Sergachev’s wrister from the high slot was deflected by Yanni Gourde and past Bobrovsky on the glove side to make it 3-0.

At that point, in 10 periods between the teams this season the Lightning, who convincingly swept the three-game season series, had outscored Columbus 20-3.

That dominance came to an end starting in the second period when Columbus would score the first of four answered goals to pull off the win.

“We got a good lesson coming out in the first period playing how we wanted to play and them getting away from it,” said Steven Stamkos. “Sometimes you can get away with that in the regular season, but in playoff hockey teams aren’t going to quit. They aren’t going to lay over.”

Columbus made it 3-1 at 9:15 of the middle period when Ryan McDonagh’s attempted cross-ice pass from the attacking right circle was deflected by Josh Anderson into the neutral zone. That is where Nick Foligno picked up the puck and had nothing but ice between him and Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was beaten with a wrist shot to the blocker side.

The Lightning had a couple of golden opportunities to regain their three-goal lead toward the end of the period. With about 40 seconds left J.T. Miller and Killorn were both turned away by Bobrovsky, who came up big against Nikita Kucherov and Stamkos as the buzzer was about to sound.

“He made key saves at key times to keep us close,” said Tortorella of his goalie, who also stoned Kucherov early in the second period when the Lightning were on a powerplay that carried over from the opening period.

David Savard made it a one-goal game nearly eight minutes into the third period, but then the Lightning had a great chance to pad the lead when Dubinsky got a double minor for high sticking at 9:23.

After killing off the front end, Anderson’s shorthanded goal at 11:54 tied the score and the hush through the arena was deafening.

The crowd was utterly stunned when Seth Jones’ wrister on the powerplay beat Vasilevskiy for what was the game-winner at 14:05.

That gave Columbus even strength, shorthanded and popwerplay goals in the final period that were scored within 6:09 of each other.

“The irony about tonight’s game was that our special teams have been so good this year, and in the end special teams let us down,” said Cooper.

The Lightning will attempt to even the series Friday night. Puck drops at 7.

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Tom Layberger has been a sports writer, reporter and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Comcast, NBC and The Topps Company. In addition to being a contributing writer for sportstalkflorida.com, Tom also writes for forbes.com and globalsportmatters.com. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a USF grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.