The Tampa Bay Lightning are coming off one of the most dominant regular seasons in NHL history -- no, seriously, these numbers are eye-popping. Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets just squeaked into the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs after being one of the more active teams at the trade deadline. Who wins this series? Let's break it down:
How they got here: The Lightning arrived via steamroller, flattening their foes en route to 62 wins, tying the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most all time in a single season. The Lightning finished with a goal differential of plus-103, the second-highest mark in the past 20 years. Their 3.96 goals per game is the highest in the NHL since 1995-96. Winger Nikita Kucherov had an NHL-best 128 points, putting him in the driver's seat for the Hart Trophy. Kucherov (41 goals), Steven Stamkos (45) and Brayden Point (41) all had 40 goals, the first team to have three such players since the 1995-96 Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Blue Jackets arrived in a pool of their own sweat and fingernails chewed to the bone. It took 81 games for the Jackets to clinch a playoff spot, despite GM Jarmo Kekalainen making the biggest trade-deadline splash by dealing for Ottawa Senators forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, while hanging on to his own pending free agents in forward Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. Columbus was 35-23-3 on the day of the trade deadline. The Jackets went 12-8-1 after that, but it was good enough to earn the last wild card and a date with a juggernaut.
First line: The Blue Jackets' line of Artemi Panarin (87 points), Pierre-Luc Dubois (61 points) and Cam Atkinson (69 points) account for the top three scorers on the team. They had a goals-for percentage of 56.82 at 5-on-5. The Lightning can serve some line salad game to game, but there's been one constant: Kucherov and Point (92 points) working together, mostly with Tyler Johnson (47 points) but also with Yanni Gourde (48 points). With Johnson, they had a goals-for percentage of 59.32. Advantage: Lightning
Depth: The Lightning were meticulously constructed for the past few seasons in an effort to amass the most talent they could under the current salary cap. The result? A team with incredible top-end talent, with secondary scoring from players such as Ondrej Palat and J.T. Miller, and with dynamic two-way players such as Alex Killorn and rookie Anthony Cirelli, who had 19 goals. The Blue Jackets aren't without depth, with players such as Duchene, Josh Anderson (27 goals) and Oliver Bjorkstrand (23 goals) contributing offensively, and a slew of others helping to make the Jackets a tough team to play against. Advantage: Lightning
Defense: Tampa Bay is anchored by Victor Hedman, the reigning Norris Trophy winner who skates 22:46 per game and plays with Mikhail Sergachev or Dan Girardi. Ryan McDonagh plays 22:05 per game, skating mostly with Erik Cernak. Braydon Coburn and Anton Stralman round out the group. The Jackets pair their two best defensemen in Seth Jones (46 points) and Zach Werenski (44 points). David Savard, Markus Nutivaara, Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington and Adam McQuaid round out the group They miss Ryan Murray, out with an upper-body injury. Advantage: Lightning
Goaltending: Andrei Vasilevskiy (39-10-4) is the favorite to win the Vezina Trophy with a .925 save percentage and a 2.40 goals-against average. In 29 playoff games, he has a .919 save percentage and a 2.68 goals-against. If that seems Jekyll and Hyde, then you haven't seen Sergei Bobrovsky's numbers. He had a decent regular season, with a .913 save percentage and a 2.58 goals-against average, but he played well down the stretch. But his career playoff numbers remain putrid: an .891 save percentage in 24 games, with a 3.49 goals-against average. Woof. Advantage: Lightning
Coaching: How much credit does Jon Cooper deserve for leading the best roster in the NHL to historic heights? Plenty, to be honest, from his system to his personnel management to keeping a team a country mile ahead of the field motivated. His teams have made the conference finals in two of three seasons. John Tortorella hasn't won a playoff series since 2013, but he has gotten the Jackets into the postseason in three straight seasons -- the longest streak in franchise history. Advantage: Lightning
Health: The Jackets are still without Murray, who has missed 24 games with an upper-body injury. Tampa had a few players banged up late in the season, including Ryan Callahan and Hedman, but should be at full strength. Advantage: Lightning
Special teams: The Lightning had a power-play percentage of 28.1, which was the highest in NHL history for an 82-game season. They were tied with the Blue Jackets atop the league on the penalty kill, at 85.0 percent. The Jackets' power play was 28th, at 15.4 percent. Advantage: Lightning
Prediction: Lightning in five. As previously stated, the Lightning have made it a habit of rolling through teams in the first two rounds, usually with one hiccup. The play of Bobrovsky in previous postseasons does nothing to dissuade that thinking.