The Tampa Bay Lightning open up the playoffs as the favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup in June, and the Lightning have been the favorites since the puck dropped in June.
The Lightning will begin the quest for the cup hosting the Columbus Blue jackets. John Tortorella is the coach in Columbus and he will always have a special spot in the hearts of Lightning fans as Tortorella was the coach of the Lightning Stanley Cup champion team of 2003-04.
The Blue Jackets had to play 81 games before they punched their playoff ticket, while the Lightning have had a playoff spot clinched since March.
The Blue Jackets come in averging 3.12 goals per game and are led by the top line of Cam Atkinson (69 points), Jean Luc Dubois (61 points), and Artemi Panarin (87 points). The Blue Jackets will struggle to score goals at times and that has contributed to their inconsistent play at times this season.
The Jackets finished 10th defensively giving up 2.82 goals a game. The duo of Seth jones and Zach Werenski lead the defense. Jones has been an all-star in the past and is the best defensemen on the Jackets team.
One of the main keys to this series will be the battle of the goaltenders. Two of the best Russian goaltenders in the game go against one another as Vezina candidate Andrei Vasilevskiy will battle Sergei Bobrovsky.
Vasilevskiy is coming off his best season with 39 wins, a 2.40 goals against average and .919 save percentage.
Bobrovsky is coming off a disappointing season with a .913 save percentage and a 2.58 goals against average.
Where you notice the big difference with these two goaltenders is in the playoffs. Bobrovsky has been anything but stellar in the post season as the Blue Jackets have yet to win a playoff series with Bobrovsky in the net.
In 24 games, Bobrovsky has an.891 save percentage with a 3.49 goals against average. The playoffs is where a goalie can get hot and extend your season with excellent play. Bobrovsky has not gotten it done on the playoffs in his career.
The Lightning come into the playoffs with the number one power play in the league clicking at 28%, while the Blue Jackets are ranked 28th in their power play at just over 15%.
The Lightning should not count on having the same amount of power play chances in the post season as the officials tend to let the players play a bit more and there is less open ice as teams really ramp up theier defensive effort.
The Lightning and Blue Jackets are tied for the top spot in the penalty kill as both are at 85%.
The Lightning were 3-0 against the Blue Jackets this season, winning games 8-2, 4-0, and 5-1. The Lightning really had the Jackets number during the regular season outscoring Columbus 17-3.
Columbus will play hard. That is a constant in a John Tortorella coached team.
When it is all said and done the Lightning has the advantage in almost every matchup against the Blue Jackets. Offense, defense, goaltending, special teams, team speed, all are advantages for the Lightning.
The Lightning has too much skill and two much fire power for this Columbus and will put down the Blue Jackets in five games Advancing to the second round of the playoffs.