“Is it going to be not only holding hands, but also hugging one another because you play each other so much? I don’t know. I have self-talked myself to death, that no matter what comes your way, try to keep your composure the best you can and just run your hockey team the best way you know how,” said Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella in an interview prior to the start of the season.
With the reconfiguration of the NHL’s divisions this 2021 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, teams will be facing the same opponents more frequently and often for multiple games in a row.
The Blue Jackets are now in the Central Division with possible upcoming rivals, the Tampa Bay Lightning. The two teams were opponents for the Blue Jackets’ first ever playoff round win in 2019, in which the Blue Jackets swept the Lightning,winning the series in only four games.
A video circulated at the time, depicting what many fans described as a very awkward encounter between summer work-out buddies, Artemi Panarin and Nikita Kucherov, in the handshake line. Panarin is no longer on the Blue Jackets, having moved to the New York Rangers after the 2018-19 season. Whatever his relationship with Kucherov added to the Tampa vs. Columbus rivalry, is no more.
Defending Stanley Cup champs
The following year, Columbus and Tampa faced off in round one of the playoffs, with Tampa winning in game five. The Lightning then went on to become the 2020 Stanley Cup champions. Game one of the series went into fifth over-time and is currently the fourth longest playoff game in NHL history.
These intense back-to-back postseason encounters introduced the possibility of a rivalry forming between the Blue Jackets and the Lightning. In the current season, the two teams have played two of their eight scheduled games against each other. The Lightning won in over-time on Jan. 21 3-2, and the Blue Jackets won on Jan. 23 5-2.
On the Jan. 23 win, Blue Jackets defenseman Zach Werenski said “They’re a very skilled hockey team and they work hard. Obviously, they’re going to get their chances. It’s just trying to limit those, and I think we did a really good job of that tonight. Elvis had some great saves, but I think as a team, that’s a step in the right direction — how we have to forecheck, how we have to play in the neutral zone. We just have to build on it.”
The Blue Jackets also have several players this season who were not present for either playoff series. Including Max Domi, Mikhail Grigorenko, Jack Roslovic, Patrik Laine and several players from AHL affiliate, the Cleveland Monsters.
Even though these teams may not have a show-stealing beef in the works, fans can anticipate competitive and exciting matchups in the future. These teams are not scheduled to play against each other again until March 30.