Probably the biggest ever surprise in the NHL playoffs happened this Tuesday night. Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the best ever teams when looking the regular season, was not eliminated, but swept in the first round against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
A 7-3 defeat at the Nationwide Arena set off the earthquake throughout the entire sports, as something spectacular happened.
“We don’t have any words and we know you don’t want to hear them,” wrote on the official Twitter account of the Lightning after the game in Ohio.
A team which was without a doubt the biggest contender for winning the championship simply collapsed already in the first round of the playoffs, and shocked everyone, including themselves.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t see this coming,” Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said.
The disbelief on the faces of Lightning players while Blu Jackets scored three empty netters in the last period, is something the spectators of this match will remember for a long time.
And the question is, ‘Did anybody saw it coming?’ Some fans, bettors, players, experts? Blue Jackets players?
“We couldn’t find our game. It’s that clear. For six days in April, we couldn’t find it,” coach Jon Cooper said.
He also had an explanation for that. According to the 51-year old, the problem was that his team had too much “meaningful” games throughout the season. Tampa Bay secured the playoffs after just 68 matches, and it was obvious much earlier that this crew will take the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
After that, they didn’t have any competitive matches, and lost the edge. On the other side, Columbus came into the series fired-up and in the “win or go home” mode, which eventually prevailed.
“When you have the amount of points we had, it’s a blessing and a curse, in a way. You don’t play any meaningful hockey for a long time. Then all of a sudden, you have to ramp it up,” Cooper described the position of his team.
This team has serious problems with mental strength. More and more experts are saying that they have a losing mentality, while others are claiming that when Lightning reaches the moment when they need to execute, fear of success appears.
The reasons for those statements are in the near past. In 2016 they had a chance to win the conference finals, but lost against Penguins despite leading 3-2. The same thing happened against the Washington Capitals last season.
On both occasions they had the later champions in their hands, waiting to be crushed.
In this series, Tampa was leading 3-0, but eventually dropped the Game 1. And what happened then was similar to those two earlier failures, even though the situation wasn’t the same. But there is a common thing for all, and that is the absence the mental strength, the inability for keeping the composure under pressure.
It is easy to play when everything goes as planned, but you need to do that when things get rough.
This is the first time in the history of the league that a team who won the Presidents trophy suffers an elimination in the opening round of the playoffs.
They had the second-highest point percentage in the history of the league, behind the Detroit Red Wings’ team from the 1995-96 season. The legendary group from Motor City had .799, while Tampa recorded .780. Lightning also tied the highest number of wins throughout the regular part of the season, 62, and were demolishing their opponents scoring 3.89 goals per game.
We don’t have any words and we know you don’t want to hear them.
We understand your anger, your frustration, your sadness. Everything you’re feeling – we get it.
This isn’t the ending we imagined, and certainly not the one we wanted. Thank you for being there the entire way.
— Tampa Bay Lightning (@TBLightning) April 17, 2019
A failure like this will have a huge impact on the team, no question about that. While the majority predict that this group will never recover from all the crashes they’ve experienced throughout the years, some of the players like captain Steven Stamkos still hold that this generation of Lightning players can make big stuff.
After one reporter asked him does he still thinks that this core can win the Stanley Cup he answered positively.
“Yeah, we believe in it.”
Is that realistic? We will see it next season.
Nikola Velickovic is a sports journalist who loves to write and read on all sports. Nikola contributes both news updates and functions as a sports breaking news writer at WagerBop.