Tampa Lightning vs Columbus Blue Jackets: Round 1, Free Picks, Odds & Predictions

Tampa Lightning vs Columbus Blue Jackets NHL Playoffs Round 1
Tampa Lightning vs Columbus Blue Jackets

Brayden Point scored his second overtime goal of the series to officially eliminate the Columbus Blue Jackets from the postseason. It was sweet revenge for the Tampa Bay Lightning after being swept by the Blue Jackets last season, but it took a two-goal comeback in the third period to even force the extra session. Columbus played its best game since Game 2, but could not protect that third-period lead then had a terrible turnover behind the net that led to Point’s game-winner.

Tampa Bay Lightning win 4-1

The Tampa Bay Lightning played a very competitive series with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but the Lightning got their revenge from last year by eliminating the Blue Jackets. Columbus probably should have won more than one game in the series, but Tampa Bay did an excellent job at limiting the Blue Jackets’ opportunities and taking advantage of its own chances. The comeback in Game 5 was just a tiny slice of what makes the Lightning so dangerous, but Tampa Bay always seemed to make the big play at the right moment to advance to the next round.

Game 1

August 11th, 3;00 p.m., Scotiabank Arena

There’s nothing like a chance at revenge to kick off the official NHL playoffs in this chaotic 2020 season. The first game of the conference quarterfinals round is a tantalizing matchup between the second-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning and No. 9 Columbus Blue Jackets, a rematch of last season’s series in the same round. Columbus famously swept Tampa Bay last year after the Lightning were the best team in the NHL and tied the league’s wins record in a season.

Tampa Bay is eager to erase those memories with a strong showing this year, but will have to do so without the services of center Steven Stamkos and potentially top defenseman Victor Hedman, who left Saturday’s game with Philadelphia with an undisclosed non-contact injury. Hedman is a big loss on the blue line for the Lightning as the anchor of their defense and main shutdown defenseman. Stamkos would have likely given a boost to an offense that only scored six goals in the round robin, but Tampa Bay has learned to win without him in the lineup.

Columbus made life harder on itself by squandering a three-goal lead in the final four minutes of Game 4 to Toronto, only to lose in overtime. However, the Blue Jackets showed great resiliency in responding with a 3-0 shutout in the decisive game to punch its ticket to the playoffs. Nine different players scored Columbus’ 12 goals against the Maple Leafs, but the real story was the Blue Jackets’ defense and goaltender Joonas Korpisalo, who pitched two shutouts in four starts against Toronto. That commitment to defense will be important against a skilled team like the Lightning.

The Lightning are the favorites in the series, but the -225 price tag is a bit much from the NHL betting sites in New Jersey. Columbus has all the tools to shut down Tampa Bay and beat them in a seven-game series for the second consecutive season, and deserves more respect than what the sportsbooks are giving them. Hedman’s status is important in determining the winner in this series, but either way, this series will go at least six games and more than likely seven. You can bet on this game going at least six games at -139 odds, or for it to go the full seven at +225, but in my heart, I still think Tampa has enough to escape Columbus this season, and would bet on the Lightning winning in seven games at +450.

After all the history between these two teams last year, the Lightning are not going to lose this first game. Tampa Bay knows what’s going to happen if it can’t beat Columbus to open the series, and that will add another level to the motivation already burning within. What helps is the quick turnaround between Columbus winning Sunday night and a Tuesday afternoon game, which means less time to think and more time to just focus on playing. Tampa Bay is favored in the game at -176, but this game won’t get to overtime if the Lightning can help it, so take them in 60 minutes at -106 odds.


Game 2 (Blue Jackets leads 1-0)

August 13th, 3:00 p.m., Scotiabank Arena

When the first game of an NHL playoffs series takes five overtimes to decide, you know the two teams involved are very evenly matched. That was certainly the case Tuesday in Game 1 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets as the two teams went back-and-forth until Brayden Point finally ended the game more than six hours after it began.

Tampa Bay was definitely the stronger team with a decisive 88-63 advantage in shots, and an even more decisive advantage in scoring chances. But Joonas Korpisalo made an NHL-record 85 saves to keep Columbus alive in the game before Point’s drive flashed over his blocker for the winning goal. The Lightning’s determination to create chances around the net bodes well for them moving forward, even if Korpisalo continues to play as well as he did Tuesday.

Columbus made the most of its chances in the first two periods, but the Blue Jackets really couldn’t sustain much after they took a 2-1 lead. They had their fair share of half-chances in the extra sessions, but either couldn’t get shots through on goal or were foiled by tremendous backchecking from Tampa Bay.

Looking ahead to Thursday’s Game 2, the effects of Game 1 should be on full display. Every player is exhausted after going five overtimes, but it’s easier to deal with that soreness and pain when you come out on the winning end. The NHL betting sites in New Jersey have set the Lightning as favorites with -195 odds, and Tampa Bay should win Game 2. Columbus’ tired legs will take effect in the second and third period, and the Lightning will look the fresher team to skate away with the victory. I’m not confident in saying Tampa Bay can get it done in 60 minutes, but I’d take the bet at -110 odds anyway.



Game 3 (Series tied 1-1)

August 15th, 7:30 p.m., Scotiabank Arena

Whatever Joonas Korpisalo asks for from his teammates, they should do for their goalie without a question. The Columbus Blue Jackets are tied in this series because of how well Korpisalo has played in goal through two games. After setting the NHL record with 85 saves in a five-overtime defeat, Korpisalo stopped 36 of 37 attempts Thursday to backstop Columbus’ series-tying victory.

The Blue Jackets has only 22 shots in the game, but they made them count with three goals, two of which came on incredibly gritty plays. If Columbus is going to have success in this NHL playoffs series, it’ll be because the Blue Jackets outwork Tampa Bay in all three zones and make the game into a sloppier affair. Columbus is going to have to score goals by crashing the net and banging home loose pucks in and around the crease while also continuing to sacrifice the body to block the Lightning’s attempts.

Tampa Bay needs to resist the urge to let frustration dictate its play in the offensive zone, and continue to believe that the goals are coming. The Lightning have been excellent at creating chances for themselves and putting pucks on net, but they’ll need to do a better job cleaning up the few chances Korpisalo leaves in front of the net. Another positive for Tampa Bay is how physical it has been with Columbus, giving the Lightning an edge to their game that might have been missing in previous years.

For at least one more game, though, I think Korpisalo has what it takes to keep the Lightning’s offense at bay. He’s playing too well and with too much confidence for him to break now that the series is tied. It’ll be tough sledding for Columbus to score given how much Tampa Bay has carried the play in this series, but the Blue Jackets have found ways to make the most of their chances. Given these two foes, I’m not confident enough to bet Columbus at +200 in regulation at the NHL betting sites in New Jersey, but I can make the wager on the Blue Jackets at +135 odds to win the game.




Game 4

August 17th, 3:00 p.m., Scotiabank Arena

Game 3 certainly didn’t look like a one-goal game on the box score. The Tampa Bay Lightning outshot the Columbus Blue Jackets 34-17, Columbus scrambled to block 24 other shots, and Tampa Bay forced Columbus into 18 giveaways while only conceding the puck five times. Yet for the last 18 minutes and 23 seconds of the game, Columbus was still just one shot away from tying the game and potentially forcing overtime.

Tampa Bay is playing so strong right now and applying so much pressure to Columbus, and the Lightning are almost waiting for the Blue Jackets to break under the siege. While Tampa Bay must remain patient in the offensive zone, it almost must be much better defensively. The Lightning aren’t allowing too many opportunities on Andrei Vasilevskiy, but the goalie has been pedestrian the past two games with save percentages below .890. Tampa Bay cannot afford to let Columbus capitalize on so many of its chances and continue to hang around in this series.

Obviously, Columbus needs to do a much better job at alleviating some of the pressure off Joonas Korpisalo, who has been magnificent in this series. One way to do that is to score on the power play after not capitalizing on four chances Saturday. The Blue Jackets are 2-for-12 in the series, so the opportunities with a man advantage will be there, and the best way to help Columbus reset the ice after it’s been tilting so heavily in Tampa Bay’s favor for most of the series.

At some point the NHL betting sites in New Jersey will catch up to this series and not make Columbus as heavy of underdogs. However, Game 3 was the exact type of game that makes Tampa Bay such heavy favorites that the Lightning still only won by one goal. The Blue Jackets are just a scrappy team and they are giving it their all to protect Korpisalo, but as important is they are finishing their chances when they do arrive. That’s enough for me to pick the Blue Jackets to even the series Monday at +150 odds.



Game 5 (Tampa Bay Lightning lead 3-1)

August 19th, 12:oo p.m., Scotiabank Arena

The tone of this game was set when the Tampa Bay Lightning successfully challenged a Columbus Blue Jackets goal in the first period for offsides. Having dodged that bullet, the Lightning scored twice in the first four minutes of the second period then held on to increase their lead in the series to 3-1. Columbus battled hard for the tying goal for the last 36 minutes, but could not break through with all of its puck possession.

Tampa Bay probably played its worst offensive game of the series in Monday’s win with just 22 shots on goal and a faceoff winning percentage below 30 percent. However, Andrei Vasilevskiy was great once again behind another sterling defensive performance that limited Columbus to just 29 shots on goal. It’s been the Lightning’s effort in the defensive zone that has proven to be the difference in this series so far, and will be the backbone to any successful NHL playoffs run for Tampa Bay.

Monday was a tough break for Columbus after it dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 71 percent of the draws in the game. That gave the Blue Jackets some much-needed possession, but they weren’t able to capitalize on their time on the puck. They sent just 29 shots on goal, though their big guns were a major part of that offensive push. This game might have changed had Columbus’ first-period goal stood, but now the Blue Jackets are on the brink of elimination.

This series has been so even despite Tampa winning three times that it feels like Columbus is due for a win. The Blue Jackets are listed by the NHL betting sites in New Jersey at +150 odds to win, Columbus played a great Game 4 to limit Tampa Bay’s offense, but it will need to get its offense going more after scoring just once on 29 attempts. Therefore, I’d also suggest betting under 4.5 goals in regulation for +107 odds.



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Josh Walfish is an award-winning journalist who has been covering college and professional sports in the United States. He holds a journalism degree from Northwestern University and his work has appeared in the Miami Herald, Chicago Sun-Times and Providence Journal. He most recently chronicled the UMass hockey teams rise to prominence over the last two years for the local newspaper

All Reviews by Josh Walfish