COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Tampa Bay Lightning will be defined by its failure, eliminated from the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs in the first round by a team of Columbus Blue Jackets that few thought had a prayer with the winners of the Presidents' Trophy .
That is a way of looking at them.
Here is the turn that Rayo had after the impressive 7-3 loss on Tuesday in Game 4 of the first round: they were victims of their own success.
Rayo had 128 points in the regular season, with a points percentage of .780, the second highest rate for a season of 82 games in NHL history, behind the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings (.799) . They tied the Red Wings team with 62 victories, the most recorded in the history of more than 100 years of NHL hockey. They secured a place in the playoffs after only 68 games and were sliding well before reaching that mark. Not only were they winning, they were crushing the opponents. They had the best power game in the league and the best death penalty, and they were the team with the highest average score (3.89) since Detroit in the 1995-96 season. Of his 62 victories, 30 were by a margin of three or more goals, which was the most drawn since 1992-93.
Everything was so easy for Tampa Bay, until it was not like that.
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"When you have the amount of points we had, it's a blessing and a curse, in a way, you do not play any meaningful hockey for a long time, then suddenly you have to increase the pace, it's not an excuse. "Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after Game 4." That's how it's done: you have a historic regular season and we had a historic playoff. "
In fact, Lightning made history in the 2019 playoffs, just not the kind any coach would want. For the first time in league history, a team with the most points in the regular season could not win a game in an opening round, a seven-game series.
"If we had the answers, we would have found a way to win a game, it's bullshit," said captain Steven Stamkos.
There are some obvious factors behind the striking demise of Rayo:
The Blue Jackets settled into a defensive clinic in the series, played 1-2-2 in rhythm control, owned the neutral zone and never allowed the Lightning to find their way offensively. The Jackets had 30 playoffs in four games, while Tampa Bay had 21. "Columbus is pretty good to close the game, they never did it in the regular season because they were always chasing us," Cooper said. "The last time we played here, we had a 5-1 lead, and they beat us completely, we just scored every time we dropped the ice."
Blue Jackets goalkeeper Sergei Bobrovsky had the best postseason of his career, with a save percentage of .932 and an average of 2.01 goals against. Even when Rayo crossed the defense of Columbus, Bobrovsky made key saves. In contrast, Tampa Bay goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy finished the series with a save percentage of .856 and an average of 3.82 goals against.
Perhaps the greatest disparity was in special teams. Lightning had the most effective power game since 1988-89 in the regular season, with 28.1 percent. However, they played in a team that was few players in the regular season. The Lightning scored once in just six power play opportunities in this series; The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, were a stellar of 5-for-10 with the advantage of the man. "There are no power games, a PP in two games, it's hard, I do not know what to say," said Nikita Kucherov, the Lightning star who won the NHL scoring title this season.
Kucherov was suspended for Game 3 of the series for an illegal check in Game 2. The star's defender, Victor Hedman, was injured in Games 1 and 2 and missed the final two games of the series.
When asked if this core of Lightning can still capture a Stanley Cup in full force, Stamkos said: "Yes, we believe in it, but one thing is to say it and another is execution." They executed a detailed game plan to delay us. " , and we did not have an answer. You have to give them some credit. Everyone will talk about losing the series, but they did many good things. We just did not have an answer. "
This core joined when Rayo lost in the 2016 conference finals, losing Games 6 and 7 to the The Pittsburgh penguins. It was together when they lost Games 6 and 7 (again) to the Washington Capitals last season. Against the Blue Jackets, they squandered a 3-0 lead in Game 1 and never recovered after the Jackets came together to win.
"I do not know," Cooper said when asked if there is a fundamental flaw in the way the team handles adversity. "It's funny: we're expected to go far this year and not go anywhere, in 2015, nobody expected us to go anywhere, and we went far, with the same core of players."
"It's hard to win in this league, it's hard not to hold the Stanley Cup at the end, but how many teams have gone through this?" They knock on the door and knock on the door and then … look at Washington, for example. remarkable and recovered in the second round, and the year when nobody expected them to do anything, they won the Stanley Cup. "
From October 6, 2018 to April 6, 2019, the Lightning were the favorites to win the Stanley Cup and one of the most dominant regular season teams in league history.
Then the playoffs began.
"We could not find our game, it's clear, for six days in April, we could not find it," Cooper said. "It's unfortunate because it puts a spot on what was a regular infernal season."
Stamkos added: "If you do not achieve the goal of winning everything, it's a failure, we do not care what happened in the regular season."