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Lightning fall in Columbus for first loss of season

Tampa Bay can’t overcome a three-goal first period by the Blue Jackets en route to a 5-2 setback.
Columbus Blue Jackets players celebrate their goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio.
Columbus Blue Jackets players celebrate their goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021, in Columbus, Ohio. [ JAY LAPRETE | AP ]
Published Jan. 23, 2021|Updated Jan. 24, 2021

The Lightning weren’t going to win every game this season. They knew that, but it was the way they lost their first game of the year that didn’t sit well.

Tampa Bay’s 5-2 loss to the Blue Jackets on Saturday in Columbus was its worst game in a long time, coach Jon Cooper said.

“I haven’t seen us play that poorly since before the (coronavirus) pause (last season),” Cooper said. “We weren’t in sync at all. Egregious turnovers, something that was not a trademark of ours anywhere in our playoff run. Goals three, four and five are off just egregious turnovers. And if you’re not managing the puck, it’s going to be a problem for you. We couldn’t score our way out of it (Saturday).”

Each game means more this season because of the abbreviated 56-game schedule, and each one is against a division opponent in the coronavirus-forced division realignment. The Lightning (3-1-0) had not allowed more than two goals in any of their first three games, outscoring opponents 13-5.

But Saturday, the Lightning struggled to maintain possession, they couldn’t get many open looks offensively, and they spent a good part of the afternoon chasing the Blue Jackets on defense.

“It’s on us, for sure,” said defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who said he “probably had the worst game” of his career. “Too many turnovers. We were not focused, and we were sloppy at times. But obviously we’re going to learn from that, and next game, we’re going to play better. We have some time to practice now, so we’ll be better. … They capitalized on our sloppy plays and turnovers.”

Related: Lightning left in limbo by schedule uncertainty

The Blue Jackets seemed energized and inspired hours after disgruntled forward Pierre-Luc Dubois was traded to the Jets, ending a situation that had clearly become a distraction. But for the Lightning, the loss was difficult to digest because they felt like they beat themselves.

“Give (the Blue Jackets) credit,” Cooper said. “I guess they’re probably happy over on their side. But we’re not too pleased on our side, and it’s when you shoot yourself in the foot, that’s when things at times don’t go well for you. That’s what happened (Saturday).”

Tampa Bay was unable to become the first defending Stanley Cup champion to start the season 4-0 since the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings.

Columbus scored three times in a five-goal first period, an early indication that the game could get ugly for Tampa Bay.

The first period also saw an injury to Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak, who left the game after absorbing a hard hit against the boards. Cernak didn’t return, and his absence meant more ice time for defensemen Ryan McDonagh (28:53), Victor Hedman (26:37) and Sergachev (23:58).

Hedman put the Lightning ahead four minutes into the game, skating through the slot with his back to the net and shooting between his legs, the puck getting past Columbus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins. The Blue Jackets responded 17 seconds later on captain Nick Foligno’s goal.

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Midway through the period, Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped forward Kevin Stenland’s one-timer from the left circle, but the puck leaked behind Vasilevskiy and forward Mikhail Grigorenko swept into the crease to clean it up.

With 59 seconds left in the period, defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov beat Vasilevskiy from the high slot after Lightning forward Pat Maroon gave the puck away in the neutral zone, giving Columbus a 3-1 lead.

Forward Ondrej Palat scored 45 seconds later on a power play for the Lightning, finishing a pinpoint cross-crease feed from Brayden Point.

The Blue Jackets went up 4-2 after Sergachev lost the puck in the offensive zone. Columbus raced ahead for a rush on Vasilevskiy, who stopped one shot but couldn’t halt defenseman Zach Werenski’s wrist shot about six minutes into the third period. The Blue Jackets later added an empty-net goal following another turnover.

“I think (the Blue Jackets) did a good job putting us in situations where we were kind of in a tough spot and where we ended up turning it over,” forward Alex Killorn said. “But I think we have to do a better job at the blue lines, making sure those turnovers don’t happen.”

Blue Jackets 3-0-2—5

Lightning 2-0-0—2

First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Hedman 1 (Stephens, Volkov), 4:10. 2, Columbus, Foligno 3 (Del Zotto, Atkinson), 4:27. 3, Columbus, Grigorenko 1 (Stenlund, Gerbe), 10:03. 4, Columbus, Gavrikov 1 (Robinson, Foudy), 19:01. 5, Tampa Bay, Palat 3 (Hedman, Point), 19:46 (pp).

Second Period—None.

Third Period—6, Columbus, Werenski 1 (Jenner, Texier), 6:34. 7, Columbus, Robinson 1 (Jones, Nash), 18:12 (en). Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 14-10-8_32. Columbus 9-8-11_28. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 1 of 3; Columbus 0 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Vasilevskiy 3-0-0 (26 shots-22 saves). Columbus, Merzlikins 0-1-1 (32-30). T—2:27. Referees—Dean Morton, Kyle Rehman. Linesmen—Tyson Baker, Devin Berg.

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