TAMPA — This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen.
The Lightning started its opening playoff game against the Blue Jackets much like it played the regular season: in control.
But what started as a statement from Tampa Bay turned into a message from Columbus.
After the Lightning took a 3-0 lead in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, the Blue Jackets scored four unanswered goals to win 4-3 Wednesday at Amalie Arena.
“Our mentality has to be when we get in this situation to shut teams down, not to add to the lead,” coach Jon Cooper said of the three-goal lead. “When you have the mentality that you want to outscore teams, these are the things that can happen.”
It was the first time the Lightning blew a three-goal lead and lost since Dec. 18, 2015, against the Capitals. The playoffs are a bad time to do it again.
The first period was all Tampa Bay. The third line did it all. Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli and J.T. Miller started the game, took care of Columbus’ top trio and then got the scoring started.
Killorn scored the first goal of the overall playoffs, a shorthanded breakaway four minutes in. Cirelli scored midway through the period on a rebound. Then in the period’s final minutes, Yanni Gourde tipped Mikhail Sergachev’s shot for another goal.
The Lightning looked like it was picking up where it had left off in the regular season and would roll over Columbus. A period doesn’t make a game, however.
That’s the point when Tampa Bay should have gone into defense mode, protect its lead rather than adding to it.
The Lightning is a scoring team; that’s what it likes to do. Its mentality of trying to outscore an opponent cropped up.
Cooper called Columbus’ first goal the perfect example of the Lightning trying to get one more when the it didn’t need another goal.
Defenseman Ryan McDonagh pinched to contribute offensively, then wasn’t in position to defend when Columbus’ Josh Anderson tipped his pass and Nick Foligno sprung loose on a breakaway. That second-period goal midway through was the Blue Jackets’ first and breathed some life into Columbus, but it didn’t turn the tide.
The Lightning got sloppy in the third period. Turnovers became a problem. Breakdowns created openings for the Blue Jackets. And Columbus seized those opportunities.
“You get away from it,” Steven Stamkos said of playing the right way. “Sometimes you can get away with that in the regular season, but playoff hockey, teams aren’t going to quit. They aren’t going to lay over.”
Victor Hedman’s attempt to clear the puck off the boards led directly to the goal that really got Columbus going. David Savard picked the puck up off the boards, beat Hedman in open ice and scored to start that three-goal onslaught in the game’s last 12 minutes.
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Four minutes later, Anderson scored shorthanded on a rush. He also beat Hedman on his way to the net and then put a wrister past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Two minutes after that, Seth Jones put the Blue Jackets on top on a power play. This time Columbus was able to set up, cycling the puck. Jones took a wrist shot from the high slot while Cam Atkinson screened Vasilevskiy.
The special teams that had served the Lightning so well in the regular season came up empty in the third period. Not only did Tampa Bay fail to convert on a four-minute power play, it gave up a shorthanded goal. Then the league’s best penalty kill allowed a tying goal on the power play.
The Lightning kicked its desperation up after that, but it was too late. Columbus’s message had been sent: Tampa Bay might be the favorite, but it is going to have to work its way through the first round.
“You want to start with confidence in Game 1, especially when you have the lead like that,” McDonagh said. “But at the end of the day, we’re in this position, and we put ourselves in this position, so it’s on to Game 2.”
The pressure is on.
Blue Jackets 0-1-3--4
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Killorn 1, 4:12 (sh). 2, Tampa Bay, Cirelli 1 (Miller, Cernak), 11:01. 3, Tampa Bay, Gourde 1 (Rutta, Sergachev), 17:50. Penalties–Girardi, TB, (illegal check to head), 2:55; Girardi, TB, served by Miller, (roughing), 2:55; Dubinsky, CBJ, (roughing), 2:55; Savard, CBJ, (interference), 19:27.
Second Period—4, Columbus, Foligno 1 (Anderson), 9:15. Penalties–None.
Third Period—5, Columbus, Savard 1, 7:56. 6, Columbus, Anderson 1 (Jenner), 11:54 (sh). 7, Columbus, Jones 1 (Panarin, Werenski), 14:05 (pp). Penalties–Dubinsky, CBJ, major (high sticking), 9:23; Killorn, TB, (high sticking), 12:16.
Shots on Goal—Columbus 6-11-9_26. Tampa Bay 13-11-5_29.
Power-play opportunities—Columbus 1 of 2 Tampa Bay 0 of 3.
Goalies—Columbus, Bobrovsky 1-0 (29 shots-26 saves). Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 0-1 (26-22).
A—19,092 (19,092). T—2:27.
Referees—Marc Joannette, Jon Mclsaac. Linesmen—Trent Knorr, Pierre Racicot.