The Columbus Blue Jackets capped a stunning sweep of the Presidents' Trophy winners with a 7-3 victory Tuesday night.
For the Blue Jackets, it was their first playoff series win.
It helped, of course, that the Blue Jackets needed to win nearly all of its remaining games to get into the playoffs. The Lightning are the first team ever in the expansion era to get swept in the first round after leading the league in points.
Tampa Bay tied the NHL record for regular-season wins with 62 and amassed 128 points, fourth in NHL history, but became the first team in the expansion era, which began in 1967-68, to go winless in the first round of the playoffs after leading the league in points.
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"I'm so happy for them because I think they really can see if you're a unit you can get some things accomplished", said Columbus coach John Tortorella, who led Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup championship in 2004. Part of it was goaltending, with Columbus' Sergei Bobrovsky outplaying Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy.
The Russian goalie shut the door when the Tampa Bay Lightning made a desperate late surge on Sunday night, preserving a 3-1 win and giving Columbus a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference quarterfinal against the NHL's best team.
If the Lightning manage to pull off the 0-3 comeback they'll join the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders, 2010 Philadelphia Flyers and 2014 Los Angeles Kings as the only teams to accomplish the feat. Stralman has been out with what the club classified as a lower-body injury and last played in Tampa Bay's penultimate regular-season game on April 4.
Hart Trophy frontrunner Nikita Kucherov is set to return to the Lightning lineup for Game 4 after serving a one-game suspension for boarding. Whether you want to call it the greatest upset of all time or the greatest collapse of all time, it doesn't matter because the Blue Jackets swept the Lightning in four games.
Columbus has commanded the series since falling behind 3-0 in the opening period of Game 1, only to rally to win that one 4-3. At the time of the trades, Columbus was a bubble team.
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The Stanley Cup playoffs can be unpredictable, but even this was an upset of historic proportions.
"It's a great feeling to finally get one", Blue Jackets defenceman David Savard said.
After a scoreless first period, the Blue Jackets struck 1:44 into the second when Duchene was in the right place to score off a rebound.
"We're thrilled for the city and the fans to experience this with them", captain Nick Foligno said, "but we know the job is not done".
This isn't the ending we imagined, and certainly not the one we wanted. Kucherov is a minus-2 with a mere five shots on goal through two games. While the Lightning had a playoff spot sewn up by Valentine's Day and nothing really to play for in the final months of the season, the Blue Jackets were fighting tooth and nail every single day. "We just have to keep going". "I think they were here the last two games, and since I've been here they've always been behind us". After losing the first two at home, the Jets find themselves back in it, snagging a pair of round wins of their own to even the series up.
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