Sudden death hero Brayden Point is mobbed by Lightning teammates after his winner in five overtimes gave them a unreal 3-2 win over the Blue Jackets, who got a NHL record 85 saves from Joonas Korpisalo. AP Photo credit Tampa Bay Lightning via Getty Images
If you thought these NHL Playoffs were very different, you were right. Between playoff bubble in both Toronto and Edmonton, Zoom interviews by the media and no fans, it’s unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Such is quarantine life in the pandemic.
Following the unique Play In phase that included an extra eight teams that were sent packing, they held the second part of the Draft Lottery that was won by the Rangers for the first time. After getting swept by the Hurricanes, they got rewarded with expected top pick Alexis Lafreniere.
While some sour pusses claim it’s unfair, that was the eerie process the NHL came up with. Enough conspiracy theories. If I wanted to watch that, I’d put on Conspiracy Theory featuring Julia Roberts and Mel Gibson. Or perhaps view another video on YouTube about JFK.
The real Stanley Cup Tournament started on Tuesday night with three games. Two were played in Edmonton while only one got completed in Toronto due to unique circumstances. Playoff hockey can be suspenseful, unpredictable and exhilarating. Such was the case in a afternoon game played between the Blue Jackets and Lightning at Scotiabank Arena.
A game that began shortly after 3 PM turned into a lengthy marathon that lasted over six hours. It was unbelievable. Despite holding a superior edge in skill and skating, the Lightning had to work extra hard to finally get a hard fought Game One from the gritty Blue Jackets. They needed five overtimes in one of the NHL’s longest games to edge Columbus 3-2 last night.
If you saw it even if only the crazy five overtimes, then you know how unreal this game was. How special was it? Blue Jackets starting goalie Joonas Korpisalo set a playoff record by making 85 saves. He was a human shield repelling shot after shot to give his outplayed team every chance to steal the game. They couldn’t do it.
Even more insane, the Lightning out-attempted the Blue Jackets 188-111. They outshot the Jackets 88-63. That included 78-58 at five-on-five where Tampa scored all three of their goals on Korpisalo. Ironically, it was a bit of puck luck that even forced the wild sudden death that took so long, they pushed Game One of Hurricanes and Bruins to a special 11 AM start earlier today. Astonishingly, that went two overtimes before Patrice Bergeron won it, forcing the Islanders and Capitals to wait an extra hour.
Trailing 2-1, a wild scrum in front of a sprawled Korpisalo resulted in pesky forward Yanni Gourde getting a big break when following his stuff try being denied by a diving Korpisalo, the Columbus netminder accidentally put the loose puck in his own net with a few Bolts searching for the rebound. Had the goalie had better luck, he and the Jackets likely win the game and create some doubt in the higher seed, who were shockingly swept by them last year.
Instead, they kept going and going. Like the old Energizer Bunny commercials, there was no rest for the weary. Especially if you were Seth Jones or Victor Hedman. Each top defenseman logged an absurd amount of ice time. Jones led all skaters with 65:06 in 76 shifts. The Columbus iron horse totaled six shots, 13 attempts, three hits, four giveaways, six takeaways and six blocked shots. As a team, the John Tortorella Blue Jackets blocked 62 shots including a game high 11 from David Savard.
Jones, who’s one of the game’s best defensemen, never slowed down. There was a good defensive play and end to end rush that nearly resulted in the winner. D partner Zach Werenski wound up with 61:45 over 75 shifts. The top Columbus pair is leaned on heavily by Tortorella, who knows a thing or two about relying on his top players.
On the flip side, you had Hedman, who played despite being questionable. Boy, did he play. Tampa coach Jon Cooper didn’t hesitate to use his best player, who didn’t show any effects of an injury. He paced the Lightning with 57:38 in 66 shifts. That included nine shots and a ridiculous 23 attempts. Fourteen that never reached the Columbus net, speaking to the dedication the gritty Blue Jackets have under Tortorella.
Hedman picked up an assist as did counterpart Jones. They were both everywhere. Whether it was leading the rush or making key defensive plays like the great recovery a hustling Hedman made to deny a breakaway, they each did it all. There was one questionable non-call when Hedman rushed back to deny Cam Atkinson’s shorthanded bid in the fifth overtime. It looked like a shove from behind with Atkinson sent flying into the net of Andrei Vasilevskiy. But no call was made. If it was legal as NBC Sports Network analyst Keith Jones claimed, then why did they make a tacky hi-sticking call on Nick Foligno earlier in sudden death.
Of course, Tortorella had nothing to say about the no call. That’s who he is. Considering that his team was outshot and out-chanced by a relentless group of Lightning, who didn’t seem to miss Steven Stamkos, you know the veteran coach will have his team focused on playing more in the Tampa end in tomorrow’s Game Two. The question is how much did such a stinging loss take out of them. They don’t have the talent of the Bolts and have to outwork opponents. Something they did to Toronto. The difference is these Lightning have the grit and determination to match the Blue Jackets.
It took a bounce for OT hero Brayden Point to get to a blocked Nikita Kucherov shot and fire a quick wrist shot past Korpisalo high and inside the goalpost at 10:27 of the fifth overtime. In sudden death terms, that translates to 90:27. That’s after 60 minutes of regulation.
This was like the five overtime win by the Penguins over the Capitals which Petr Nedved won with a great wrist shot in ’96. It was also like Keith Primeau pulling up and snapping a perfect laser in a fifth OT to stun the Pens as a Flyer in 2000. Both their goals turned those series. Will Point’s second goal of last night have a similar impact?
It was Game One. But the way the Jackets play due to less skill, it could have a lasting effect. The Bolts were very impressive at not only possessing the puck and firing rubber from everywhere. They also defended extremely well and didn’t give the countering Jackets any room or space. Even though he had a goal and assist in regulation, Pierre-Luc Dubois was smothered in the overtimes. A credit to how well Tampa defended. They broke up a lot of passes and took the action to Columbus.
What will the second game bring? I don’t know. But I do feel that was a huge win for the Lightning. Had they lost, they might’ve started to wonder if the Blue Jackets have their number. In the end, their effort was rewarded. It had to feel good. As for Columbus, it’s the reverse effect. Can they rebound as they did in Game Five following the Game Four collapse against the Leafs?
We’ll see. What we did get was a historic night of playoff hockey. At least it ended at a normal time thanks to the earlier start.
Korpisalo was heroic in defeat stopping everything. He sure did all he could. His 85 save effort even in a excruciating loss won’t be forgotten. Epic stuff from him and unbelievable effort from both teams.