By Annie Ross
The Columbus Blue Jackets dumped the Tampa Bay Lightning 7-3 to complete the most unlikely first-round playoff upset in the NHL’s modern history.
This is the Blue Jackets’ 18th season in the NHL and the franchise hadn’t won a playoff series before sweeping the Stanley Cup favorite Lightning in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
“This was the loudest crowd I’ve ever played in front of,” Columbus center Matt Duchene said. “You could feel how much the city needed and wanted this.”
The Lightning won 62 games, tying an NHL regular-season record, to capture the Presidents’ Trophy. This is the first time a Presidents’ Trophy winner was swept in the first round.
Since 1987, the lower seed has won 37.5% of the series in the NHL’s opening round. But few saw this upset coming. The Lightning were the league’s best offensive team and the Blue Jackets outscored them 19-8.
The Lightning were the NHL’s top penalty-killing team this season and the Blue Jackets were ranked 28th on the power play. But the Blue Jackets went 5-for-10 with the man advantage.
Meanwhile, Tampa Bay’s league-leading power play only scored one goal against the Blue Jackets.
“They did a lot of good things and we didn’t have an answer for them,” said Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, a 45-goal scorer who only had one in this playoff series. He was minus-8 in the four games.
The Lightning had the Blue Jackets down 3-0 in the first period of the first game, but couldn’t close them out. That may have been the turning point, the Blue Jackets said.
“We played with desperation the whole series even when we got the lead in the series, and that was a great recipe for success,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said.
The Blue Jackets have only been in the playoffs five times, and three of those appearances have come in the last three seasons. This year, the Blue Jackets made a bold decision at the trade deadline to keep potential unrestricted free agents Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin and then traded for Duchene and Ryan Dzingel.
Tortorella is a fiery, tough-talking, aggressive coach, and that’s how the Blue Jackets played against the Lightning. They gave the Lightning no time and space with the puck.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t see this coming,” Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said.
The Lightning will be compared to the 1970-71 Boston Bruins (taken down by the Montreal Canadiens with Ken Dryden in net) or the 1981-82 Edmonton Oilers (taken out by the Los Angeles Kings the season Wayne Gretzky registered 92 goals and 212 points). But those Bruins and Oilers series both went the distance.