Zach Werenski

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Shocker: Blue Jackets blow out Lightning 5-1 to take 2-0 series lead

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The Columbus Blue Jackets needed to pull off a stunning comeback to capture Game 1. Going up 2-0 in the series against Tampa Bay was a far cleaner affair as the Blue Jackets cruised to a 5-1 victory Friday night.

After winning a record-tying 62 games in the regular season, Tampa Bay came into this game with something to prove, but the Lightning didn’t play like a team that just got a rude wake-up call. Instead, Columbus carried its momentum from Game 1.

Cam Atkinson managed to squeak one through Andrei Vasilevskiy just 5:05 minutes into the game. Rather than answer back, Ondrej Palat took a hooking call at 11:40 of the first that led to Zach Werenski almost immediately scoring on a rocket.

Trying to spark his team, Lightning forward Brayden Point fought with Werenski. It certainly wasn’t a likely matchup, but it didn’t end up being a turning point in the game.

Matt Duchene scored his first career playoff goal early in the second period to put the Blue Jackets up 3-0. Werenski got an assist on that marker to earn the Gordie Howe hat trick. Mikhail Sergachev gave Tampa Bay a sign of life 5:00 into the third when he made it 3-1 and soon after that, Nick Foligno took a tripping penalty to give the Lightning the man advantage.

Tampa Bay had the best power play in the league during the regular season, but the Blue Jackets managed an impressive kill to drain whatever momentum the Lightning had built. From there it was just adding insult to injury as Riley Nash and Artemi Panarin each scored to turn what was already looking like a decisive win into a blowout.

The Blue Jackets spent the final 4:26 minutes on the power play because of Nikita Kucherov‘s boarding major. We’ll have to see if the league feels that one warrants further discipline.

“This is a five-alarm fire. We are facing adversity. Sometimes that’s good to face adversity,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after the game, per Pierre LeBrun.

What you’ll be hearing a lot about now is the fact that Columbus also started its Round 1 series against the Capitals with back-to-back wins in Washington last year. Of course, the Capitals won the next four games and went on to win the Stanley Cup. For Lightning fans, that’s a reason to remain hopeful. For the Blue Jackets, it’s a reminder that nothing has been decided yet.

Lightning-Blue Jackets Game 3 from Nationwide Arena will be Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Columbus prospect Werenski on return to Michigan

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The Columbus Blue Jackets gave their 2015 first-round pick Zach Werenski a choice regarding how to handle his next season of development.

Ultimately, Werenski opted to return to NCAA hockey rather than signing an entry-level deal back in August. He told the Columbus Dispatch why on Friday.

“I was 50-50 for a while,” Werenski said. “It’s a great position to be in — signing with Columbus or going to the University of Michigan are great options — but it’s a really tough call. Some of the teams I met with at the combine … they made it really clear: If we draft you, you’re going to do what we tell you to do and play where we say you’re going to play. Columbus didn’t do that, and I really appreciate it.”

He’s mere months removed from Columbus selecting him eighth overall, so the situation must have left his head spinning a bit. He excelled as a freshman defenseman at Michigan, yet he just turned 18 in July.

Werenski cited his young age – not to mention an urge to get his school back into the NCAA tournament – in explaining his return to Michigan.

One gets the impression that Blue Jackets management is giddy about him, even if they’re also trying to respect the patient approach.

“It’s all there for him to be a great defenseman in all facets,” NHL defenseman turned Michigan assistant Mike Komisarek said. “You talk to him, and you’d swear he was 25 years old. That’s how he plays, too. He’s in control of everything. I’m so excited about where this kid is going to go.”

First thing’s first, he’s going back to school.

For more, check out the full article at the Columbus Dispatch. For even more than that, read up on Werenski in this PHT profile.

Eichel headlines U.S. junior evaluation camp roster

Jack Eichel highlights Team USA’s national junior evaluation camp roster, which was unveiled on Thursday.

Eichel, who captained the 2015 U.S. world junior squad, is one of 11 players from this year’s tournament invited to the camp, which takes place Aug. 1-8, in Lake Placid, New York.

Rangers’ prospect Brandon Halverson returns in goal while Brandon Carlo, Ryan Collins, Noah Hanifin and Zach Werenski were all a part of the Americans’ blue line at the 2015 tournament.

Dylan Larkin, Auston Matthews, Sonny Milano, Nick Schmaltz and Alex Tuch along with Eichel were among the U.S. forward group at this year’s tournament.

Eichel is also one of 18 invited players eligible for the 2015 NHL Draft next week in Florida.

CLICK HERE TO SEE THE ENTIRE ROSTER

Matthews, who will likely spend the 2015-16 season playing professionally in Europe, is the top rated prospect for the 2016 NHL Draft. Five players invited are eligible for next year’s draft.

The Americans have medaled in three of the past six world junior tournaments. The U.S. took home gold medals in 2013 and 2010, and bronze in 2011. Team USA finished fifth at the 2015 event.

The 2016 world junior championship takes place in Helsinki, Finland from Dec. 26 to Jan. 5.

Related: Here’s the full 2015 NHL Entry Draft order