TAMPA — When Columbus needed help getting more out of its floundering power-play unit, coach John Tortorella brought in former Lightning standout Marty St. Louis to help.
The two helped bring a Stanley Cup to Tampa 15 years ago and both have their place in team history. St. Louis’ retired No. 26 is now hanging in the rafters at Amalie Arena, but he’s been helping to make another club a cup contender against his former team.
While St. Louis’ role has been an advisory one, he’s made an impact on a Blue Jackets’ power play unit that was one of the league’s worst during the regular season, but has seen remarkable efficiency in Columbus taking the first two games from the top-seeded Lightning in the teams’ first-round series.
"I think he gives us a little bit more confidence and a different kind of language, so to speak," said Blue Jacket right wing Cam Atkinson. "I think we've been taking advantage of that. It's not always going to work, but we're definitely playing with more confidence. ... Every time he speaks you have to listen to him. He's a Hall of Famer for a reason."
After ranking 28th in the league in power-play efficiency during the regular season, the Blue Jackets are 3-for-6 on the power play in the first two games of the series, including a 2-for-4 in Blue Jackets’ 5-1 Game 2 win on Friday night. That comes against a Lightning penalty kill that ranked first in the NHL entering the postseason.
“We knew we could be a good power play, a dangerous power play,” said defenseman Zach Werenski, who scored the first of Columbus’ two power-play goals Friday. “We have all the assets for it. So now I think it’s just bearing down and guys doing their job. It’s the most fun time of the year. The numbers in the regular season don’t matter. It’s a whole new season now. Everyone starts at zero and the special teams has been working for us.”
When the teams played back in February, Tortorella praised St. Louis' work, saying having a "self-made Hall of Famer" who had so much success on the power play like St. Louis offered something the team didn't have.
St. Louis, who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame last year, has the second-most playoff power-play goals in Lightning history (10) — Steven Stamkos has 11 — so his resume is well known.
"It's awesome to have an outside voice like that," Werenski said. "He sees stuff that we don't see. He kind of has a different opinion. He's played the game at different positions, he's been everywhere on the ice, so he sees it a little different than a lot of people. I think it's been a huge help for us so far."
The Blue Jackets’ playoff success it boosted in building confidence in the unit. Defenseman Seth Jones scored the winner inside the final six minutes of Game 1, a rocket through traffic that marked Columbus’ fourth straight goal. The Blue Jackets built on that in Game 2.
Already up 1-0, Columbus immediately scored after Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat went to the penalty box for a hooking penalty at the 11:40 mark in the first. Matt Duchene won a faceoff and kicked it out to the blue line, where Werenski rifled a shot through traffic and past Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Blue Jackets scored their third goal less than a minute into a second-period power play. Artemi Panarin shot towards the net, and Duchene tapped his own rebound into the back of the net, giving Columbus a 3-0 lead at the 1:28 mark in the second period.
“It’s kind of been a struggle for us for most of the year, but when we’re all playing with confidence and moving the puck around, we’re a dangerous power play unit,” Atkinson said. “I think one thing we’ve been harping on has been retrievals as well. Not just being a one-and-done power play unit and being hard when you don’t have the puck and getting the puck back. What makes the biggest difference is winning the draw.”
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @EddieInTheYard.