What in the World Happened to the Lightning?

When the playoffs arrive, all bets are off. If you need proof, just consider the mind-boggling upset delivered to the most dominant NHL squad in years at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the 2019 NHL postseason.

Coming off of a record-tying 62 win season, the Lightening seemed a shoe-in for the Stanley Cup finals. But after Tuesday night's historic upset, the Blue Jackets have a Cinderella story in the makings and hockey fans are in for a scrap as Boston, Winnipeg, Las Vegas, and more vie for the top spot. But just how did Tampa Bay fall so far so quickly?

The Best Offense is a Good Offense

You don't hold the winningest record in hockey without scoring goals. The Lightning's fusillade top three Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and Brayden Point could not get their momentum going against the Blue Jackets. The three goal-scorers combined for 318 points during the regular season, but were held silent until Game 4 of the Tampa/Columbus series.

By that time, Stamkos' single goal was far from enough to turn the tide. In fact, the Jackets stomped on any momentum from that, scoring to take the lead again just one minute later.

Columbus Was Underrated

Just as Tampa Bay deserves our critique, you have to give the Blue Jackets their credit where it's due. Bringing a winning record into the playoffs is a positive sign, but it's not everything. For the Columbus Blue jackets, a record that placed them at a lower seed failed to tell the entire story. After going all-in at the trade deadline to try and drum up some new talent to sustain their playoff hopes, the Jackets came into the playoffs having won seven of their last eight and cleared the air on some important team matters that players agreed helped set the tone on the ice.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. Absolutely nobody picked Tampa to get swept, and they were a record-setting -425 moneyline favorite to win the series. That's the kind of thing that only a fool would be against, and yet here we are.

Confidence Failed Tampa Bay

After getting out to an early lead in game one, Tampa Bay might have gotten a little cocky. Their confidence was only short-lived, however, when a turnover led to Columbus' first goal of the series and an epic shift in momentum.

For a team that enjoyed such a winning record, a contest with a fired-up Columbus squad that wasn't prepared to roll over and die was an ambush they weren't prepared for. Giving up game one clearly affected team morale, and led to a 5-1 loss in Game 2 that only sealed their fate. Even when you're at the top of the heap, you've got to show your opponents respect in the playoffs.

These were the three major contributing factors in Tampa's massive upset, but don't discount the importance of things like Victor Hedman's injury or the quality performance of Columbus goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky, who is still owed credit for shutting down a historically high-scoring team even if the top three were not playing their best.

In the fast-paced world of hockey, the difference between a chump and a champion can be the grit it takes to stay hungry after a record-setting season like Tampa's. For the Lightening. the dream is over in 2019.

Comments and Conversation

April 21, 2019

Anthony Brancato:

What happened to the Lightning can be summed up in four words:

They peaked too early.

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