COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Tampa Bay Lightning will probably be outlined by their failure, swept out of the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs within the first spherical by a Columbus Blue Jackets workforce few thought had a prayer of hanging with the Presidents’ Trophy winners.
That is a technique to have a look at them.
Here is the spin the Lightning had after Tuesday night time’s beautiful 7-Three defeat in Sport four of the primary spherical: They have been victims of their very own success.
The Lightning had 128 factors within the common season, with a factors proportion of .780, the second-highest fee for an 82-game season in NHL historical past, behind solely the 1995-96 Detroit Crimson Wings (.799). They tied that Crimson Wings workforce with 62 wins, essentially the most recorded within the 100-plus-year historical past of NHL hockey. They clinched a playoff spot after simply 68 video games and have been coasting effectively earlier than reaching that mark. They weren’t simply profitable — they have been crushing opponents. That they had the league’s greatest energy play and greatest penalty kill, and so they have been the highest-scoring workforce on common (Three.89) since Detroit in that 1995-96 season. Of their 62 wins, 30 have been by a margin of three or extra targets, which was tied for essentially the most since 1992-93.
All of it got here so simply for Tampa Bay — till it did not.
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“When you may have the quantity of factors we had, it is a blessing and a curse, in a means. You do not play any significant hockey for a very long time. Then unexpectedly, you need to ramp it up. It is not an excuse. It is actuality,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper stated after Sport four. “That is the way it goes: You will have a historic common season, and we had a historic playoff.”
Certainly, the Lightning made historical past within the 2019 playoffs — simply not the sort any coach would need. For the primary time in league historical past, a workforce with essentially the most factors within the common season did not win a recreation in an opening-round, seven-game collection.
“If we had the solutions, we’d have discovered a solution to win a recreation. It sucks,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos stated.
There are some apparent elements behind the Lightning’s beautiful demise:
The Blue Jackets placed on a defensive clinic within the collection, enjoying a 1-2-2 forecheck that slowed the tempo, owned the impartial zone and by no means allowed the Lightning to seek out their means offensively. The Jackets had 30 takeaways in 4 video games, whereas Tampa Bay had 21. “Columbus is fairly good at shutting it down. They by no means did that within the common season as a result of they have been all the time chasing us,” Cooper stated. “The final time we performed right here, we had a 5-1 lead, and so they had fully outplayed us. We simply scored each time we went down the ice.”
Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky had one of the best postseason of his profession, with a .932 save proportion and a 2.01 goals-against common. Even when the Lightning broke by way of the Columbus protection, Bobrovsky made key saves. In distinction, Tampa Bay goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy completed the collection with an .856 save proportion and a Three.82 goals-against common.
Maybe the most important disparity was on particular groups. The Lightning had the simplest energy play since 1988-89 within the common season, at 28.1 %. They have been enjoying a workforce, nevertheless, that was short-handed the fewest instances within the common season. The Lightning scored as soon as on simply six power-play alternatives on this collection; the Blue Jackets, in the meantime, have been a stellar 5-for-10 with the person benefit. “No energy performs. One PP in two video games. It is robust. I do not know what to say,” stated Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning’s star winger who received the NHL scoring title this season.
Kucherov was suspended for Sport Three of the collection for an unlawful verify in Sport 2. Tampa Bay star defenseman Victor Hedman performed damage in Video games 1 and a pair of and missed the ultimate two video games of the collection.
Requested if this Lightning core can nonetheless seize a Stanley Cup at full energy, Stamkos stated, “Yeah, we consider in it. But it surely’s one factor to say it, and it is one other to execute. They executed an in depth recreation plan to sluggish us down, and we did not have a response to it. You need to give them some credit score. Everybody’s going to speak about us shedding the collection, however they did quite a lot of good issues. We simply did not have a solution.”
This core was collectively when the Lightning fell within the 2016 convention finals, shedding Video games 6 and seven to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was collectively once they misplaced Video games 6 and seven (once more) to the Washington Capitals final season. Towards the Blue Jackets, the Lightning squandered a Three-Zero lead in Sport 1 and by no means recovered after the Jackets rallied to win.
“I do not know,” Cooper stated when requested if there is a basic flaw in how the workforce handles adversity. “It is humorous: We’re anticipated to go far this yr, and we go nowhere. In 2015, nobody anticipated us to go anyplace, and we went far, with the identical core of gamers.
“It is laborious to win on this league. It is robust to not be holding up the Stanley Cup on the finish, however what number of groups have gone by way of this? They knock on the door and knock on the door after which … you have a look at Washington, for instance. That they had two exceptional years and received bounced within the second spherical, and the yr nobody anticipated them to do something, they received the Stanley Cup.”
From Oct. 6, 2018, by way of April 6, 2019, the Lightning have been the favorites to win the Stanley Cup and probably the most dominant regular-season groups within the historical past of the league.
Then the playoffs began.
“We could not discover our recreation. It is that clear. For six days in April, we could not discover it,” Cooper stated. “It is unlucky as a result of it places a blemish on what was one helluva common season.”
As Stamkos added, “If you happen to do not accomplish the aim of profitable all of it, it is a failure. We do not care about what occurred within the common season.”