The Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets have delivered on a thrilling series thus far, with each team earning a hard-fought win. Game 3 is Saturday evening in Toronto, where one of those clubs will take a 2-1 series lead in the rematch from last year’s first round series.
Here is a preview for Game 3 between the Lightning and the Blue Jackets, along with a series recap and a free pick with the help from the handicapping pick experts at Gameadvisers. The opening line has Tampa Bay as the -165 favorite.
Game 1 will be remembered throughout hockey history as one of the longest playoff games of all time. In the fifth overtime period, after about 150 minutes of play, C Brayden Point ended the game with a wrist shot from the middle of the zone to give the Lightning the 3-2 win. Point also scored in the first period, while LW Yanni Gourde tied the game early in the third period, the final goal scored until the overtime winner.
The big story of the game was in net, as Columbus’ Joonas Korpisalo made an NHL-record 85 saves, earning First Star of the game. For Tampa, Andrei Vasilevskiy made 61 saves of his own. In total, both goalies faced 151 shots, the most in an NHL game since shot tracking began in 1955-56.
With both teams back on the ice on Thursday, the Jackets made quick work of the Bolts. After RW Nikita Kucherov put the Lightning up early in the first, Columbus scored three unanswered goals while receiving another brilliant performance from Korpisalo, as they evened the series with a 3-1 win. D Ryan Murray, RW Oliver Bjorkstrand, and C Alexander Wennberg all got on the board for the Jackets, who were once again outshot by Tampa 37-22. Korpisalo stopped 36 shots to earn First Star once again.
Key to Victory
Tampa Bay will win if: The power play gets going. Over the last few seasons, the Lightning have had one of the most dangerous power play units in hockey. That was no exception this year, with the Bolts finishing fifth with a 23.2 percent conversion rate. But so far this series, their power play is 0-for-6 through two games. The Blue Jackets are a team that doesn’t get penalized very often and give teams many opportunities with the extra man, so it’s important for the Lightning to start capitalizing. With C Steven Stamkos out with an injury, that means players like Point, Kucherov, plus wingers Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat, will all have to step up.
Columbus will win if: Korpisalo continues to dazzle. We see time and time again how vital a hot goaltender can be in the postseason, and so far in the first round no goalie has been more impressive than Korpisalo. The 26-year old is the main man in net now after his partner in net Elvis Merzlikins is out for undisclosed reasons. The Blue Jackets have been badly outshot in each of the last two games, but Korpisalo has kept them in these games, especially Game 1. If the Finnish netminder can continue his hot streak, it will take the pressure off of the point producers like Bjorkstrand, Wennberg, and C Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Vasilevskiy and Korpisalo are expected to man the nets for their respective teams once again. During the regular season, the reigning Vezina winner Vasilevskiy went 35-14-3 with a 2.56 GAA and .917 save percentage. Meanwhile, Korpisalo went 19-12-5 with a 2.60 GAA and .911 save percentage.
After last year’s historic sweep by the Blue Jackets, the series this year feels a little more up for grabs. For Game 3, I’m expecting the Lightning offense to bounce back and for the power play to finally wake up. Look for Tampa Bay to continue to win the shot battle and put pressure on Korpisalo throughout the game. While it will still be close, I’m giving the edge to the Lightning.
Head to our favorite pay per head bookie site Payperhead247.com and bet the Lightning -165.
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