AP Photo/Chris O’Meara
- The Tampa Bay Lightning were swept out of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Tuesday night after losing to the Columbus Blue Jackets 7-4.
- Through the regular season, the Lightning were the most dominant team in the NHL, tying the league record for wins in a season, but they fell completely flat when the games began to matter.
- Lightning head coach Jon Cooper believes the teams dominance was ultimately its downfall, saying that they weren’t prepared to play meaningful hockey after having been able to coast in relative comfort through the majority of the season.
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The Tampa Bay Lightning were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs on Tuesday night in embarrassing fashion, losing 7-4 to the Columbus Blue Jackets to complete their utter collapses and get swept out of the postseason.
Through the entire regular season, the Lightning were the best team in hockey. Tampa Bay finished the year with 128 points and 62 wins, tying the 1996 Detroit Red Wings for the most wins in NHL history. They finished with a goal differential of +103, more than doubling the second-highest team in the league. They were the 2016 Golden State Warriors on ice.
But while the Warriors made it to the NBA Finals and even held a 3-1 lead in the series, the Lightning were eliminated from the playoffs in even more embarrassing fashion, failing to win a single playoff game and being swept out of the first round by the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets.
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According to Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, the team’s dominance was precisely the problem.
"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. It’s not an excuse. It’s reality," Cooper said after being eliminated, per ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski. "That’s how it goes: You have a historic regular season, and we had a historic playoff."
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Cooper’s point is sound. The Lightning jumped out to an early lead in the Eastern Conference playoff race and never looked back. By February, they were on cruise control. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets didn’t secure their playoff spot until the final week of the regular season and spent the last two months battling to fend off other contenders for the eight-seed.
ESPN’s Barry Melrose echoed Cooper sentiments. Appearing on "Golic & Wingo," Melrose said that he believed the Lightning’s lack of must-win moments throughout the season came back to bite them.
"The bottom line is, I think that team was not tested," Melrose said. "You just didn’t know what would happen with that team when they got to a must-win game. And when they got to a must-win game or a must-win period, they just couldn’t do it."
While Cooper and Melrose had their explanations, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was still despondent and confused after the loss.
"If we had the answers, we would have found a way to win a game," Stamkos said. "It sucks."
Regardless of why it happened, the result is the same — the Blue Jackets have won the first playoff series in the history of the franchise against one of the most dominant teams the NHL had seen in years, while the Lightning are heading home with nothing to do but wonder where it all went wrong.
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