In the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Columbus Blue Jackets got matched up with the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Blue Jackets were the 2nd wildcard while the Lightning were the best team in all of the NHL and set all types of records like the record for most wins in NHL history with 62 and they earned 128 points. Meanwhile on the other side of the coin, the Blue Jackets had to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs. They didn’t clinch a spot until the second to last game of the season thanks to a shootout victory on the road against the New York Rangers, (a team that I strongly dislike), but they got the job done.
Going into their first-round matchup, nobody gave Columbus a chance to win the series, let alone even win a game against the Lightning. I’ll admit that I was one of those people who didn’t give the Blue Jackets a chance, and I’m a diehard Blue Jackets fan. That’s how much respect I have for what the Lightning did this season. Actually, let me rephrase that, I thought that maybe we could win a game but Tampa Bay would still win the series.
At the end of the 1st period in Game 1 at Amalie Arena in Tampa Bay, the Lightning held a 3-0 lead. But John Tortorella must’ve said something that really inspired the team because the Blue Jackets came back and won Game 1, 4-3. Then in Game 2, Columbus flat out dominated and won it 5-1. Game 3 was back at Nationwide Arena and it was a much closer game, but the Blue Jackets once again got the victory by a score of 3-1. Although Tampa was without Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman.
So, for Game 4, the Lightning had Nikita Kucherov back after serving his one-game suspension, but they were again without Victor Hedman due to an injury. The Jackets scored the first two goals of the game before the Lightning would come back to score a goal to cut the deficit to one. Then the Jackets scored to take a 3-1 lead. However, Tampa Bay scored two goals to tie the game at three. Oliver Bjorkstrand (who scored the game-winning goal in the 2016 Calder Cup Finals against the Hershey Bears), scored the go-ahead goal near the end of the 2nd period to give the Blue Jackets a 4-3 lead. After that, Columbus scored three more goals to win game 4, 7-3, and sweep the Tampa Bay Lightning and move on to the 2nd round for the first time in franchise history where they will face the Boston Bruins. The Bruins won Game 1 at TD Garden in overtime, 3-2.
Meanwhile, on the AHL side of things, the Cleveland Monsters got into the playoffs on the last day of the season thanks to a 5-1 win at Toronto against the Marlies and the Bellville Senators losing at home to the Rochester Americans. The Monsters made it into the playoffs as the wildcard and got matched up with the… Syracuse Crunch, AHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Due to the Crunch winning the North division, the 5-game series between Syracuse and Cleveland started at the Oncenter War Memorial Arena in Syracuse, New York for Games 1 and 2. Meanwhile, at least Game 3 would be at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland Ohio. Game 4 would be at the Fieldhouse (if necessary). The Monsters won both games in Syracuse by a score of 5-1 and 5-3. What this means is that the Monsters could sweep Syracuse in Game 3 back in Cleveland. I was at Game 3 and it looked like the Monsters weren’t ready to match the desperation of Syracuse as the Monsters came out flat and Syracuse came out desperate. The Crunch took a 2-0 lead deep into the 3rd period before Justin Scott scored a shorthanded goal to cut the deficit to 2-1, but it wasn’t enough as Syracuse forced a game 4. In Game 4, the Monsters came out with high energy and shut out the Crunch, 3-0. They will now face the Toronto Marlies in the 2nd round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. Except for this time, it is going to be a 7-game series unlike in the first round which was 5-game series.
I’m not sure I want to go to another Monsters game this season, though. The reason is that every game I’ve been to this season, the Monsters have lost. The first game they lost when I was there was on February 9 against the Binghamton Devils, AHL affiliate of the New Jersey Devils, who came back in the final two minutes of the 3rd period to beat the Monsters, 3-2. The second game I went to was April 11 against the Charlotte Checkers, AHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes. Charlotte took an early lead of 2-0 and the Monsters came back to take the lead but Charlotte tied it up at three and then won 4-3 in overtime. Finally, I was at Game 3 against Syracuse when the Monsters had the opportunity to complete the sweep, but they ultimately feel 2-1. Maybe I’m a curse to the Cleveland Monsters this season.
But as the title says, both the Blue Jackets and Monsters eliminated Tampa Bay teams. Is this destiny for them to raise the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history and raise the Calder Cup for the first time since 2016? Columbus will have to get through Boston and Cleveland will have to get through Toronto in order to possibly achieve those two goals.