Grading the Lightning’s Game 1 loss to Columbus

BLUE JACKETS 4, LIGHTNING 3: A stunner and a hole, just like that.
Nikita Kucherov (86) collides with Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Artemi Panarin (9) during the third period of the Lightning's 4-3 loss in Game 1 of the NHL playoffs first-round series Wednesday at Tampa. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times
Nikita Kucherov (86) collides with Columbus Blue Jackets left wing Artemi Panarin (9) during the third period of the Lightning's 4-3 loss in Game 1 of the NHL playoffs first-round series Wednesday at Tampa. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times
Published April 10
Updated April 10

TAMPA — The bell rang.

The home team came out as if it had been ringing all season.

Then it was counted out.

The Lightning that never took its foot off the gas all the way to a record-tying 62 wins kept on going to start Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, taking a 3-0 lead in the first period. Then the playoffs really began.

Just like in the regular season, the Columbus Blue Jackets couldn’t stop Tampa Bay. Just like in the regular season, the Lightning played like the best hockey team in the world. At least for the first 20 minutes.

Then it got scary. Very scary.

Columbus won, 4-3, from three goals down no less, with three third-period goals. An emotional win in the exact opposite direction.

Tampa Bay seemed to be ruling the night. During the season, it was 39-2-2 when leading after two periods.

Now it’s scary. Too scary.

John Tortorella’s Blue Jackets, who nearly bumped off Washington last season before the Capitals went on to win the Stanley Cup, are in Lightning heads. Now it’s a hole. Just like that.

Who was the hunter here, anyway?

The Lightning clinched playoff home ice weeks ago on its way to a startling 128 points. It entered the playoffs as the hunted, but played like the hunter in Game 1, jumping all over Columbus, which aimed to plant seeds of doubt. Instead, it was reeling and down 3-0, beginning with Alex Killorn’s shorthanded goal off a Seth Jones turnover made it 1-0 barely four minutes in. A quick start meant everything, and the Lightning jumped on it, outshooting the Blue Jackets 13-4 in the opening period. Grade: A

Reminder: Not so fast, boys

The Lightning began to lose its grip in the second period, giving up chances and odd-man rushes. The Blue Jackets found daylight and joined this series and then some. Nikita Kucherov couldn’t finish in front when he could have made it 4-0 early in the second period and an errant pass from down deep by Ryan McDonagh ended up on the stick of Columbus captain Nick Foligno, who raced down ice and beat Andrei Vasilevskiy to cut the lead to 3-1. A little too much loose play from the Lightning. It stayed that way into the third, and two Columbus goals, the last a shorty, as Stamkos bumbled into Vasilevskiy in his crease, tied the game at 3. Just like that. Then Seth Jones scored on the power play and that was that. Grade: C

Depth matters

Nikita Kucherov was the NHL scoring leader this season, which included 41 goals, and Steven Stamkos scored 45 goals. Neither man had a shot in the first period, but it didn’t slow the Lightning down. At first. Lightning scoring depth has been a strength all season, and it was all around Game 1. Killorn’s mate on the third line, Anthony Cirelli, made it 2-0 firing home a rebound of an Erick Cernak shot. Yanni Gourde made it 3-0 off a tipped Mikhail Sergachev shot. It took Sergachev nearly half the regular season to score his first goal. Grade: B

D in the mix

Scoring from the backline has been a Lightning trademark. It got three points from the defense in Game 1, that goal from Sergachev, that assist from Rutta, that assist from Erik Cernak. Other good news: Victor Hedman skating freely and well in Game 1 after an injury late in the season. But then came an omen: Hedman was denuded by Columbus unsuspected defenseman David Savard before Savard scored. Grade: B

Beware of Bob

Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, after a shaky first period, kept the Lightning from putting this away in the second period. Instead of a guy with a 3-10 career playoff record, Bobrovsky looked like the guy who had a career-record nine shutouts during the season. There was that early save off Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov hit the post on one shot and Bobrovsky stopped Kucherov again late in the period, and stoned Stamkos in close as time was about to run out in the period. Kucherov and Stamkos needed to come through in those situations. These are the big Lightning guns, the same guns that came up short in Games 6 and 7 against Washington in last season’s Eastern Conference final.

Anybody got a home or work for Hootie?

The pregame stars at the Lightning watch party before Game 1 was the rock band Cage The Elephant. Great job, fellas, great riffs, great time. Problem: One band guitarist and the drummer wore Nashville Predators jerseys. The NHL couldn’t have been happy. Lightning management sure wasn’t. Grade: F