COLUMBUS, Ohio – They'll wear this forever. A team too nice to win.
That's your Tampa Bay Lightning 2018-19 in all your charming disappointment. Glamor boys in the regular season, and suitors when it was time to do the dirty work of the NHL postseason.
I do not mean that the Lightning players are soft. They have beaten, they have fought, they have bled. There were moments in Game 3 on Sunday night when it seemed they had rediscovered his pbadion.
But top players have long had a reputation for being dazzling with their skills, but less than intimidating when it comes to confrontation and guts.
And these playoffs have told the whole story in three pitiful games.
The last and best chance to resurrect a historic regular season may have ended on Sunday night when the Blue Jackets beat Lightning 3-1 with the possibility of a sweep Tuesday night. And the Stanley Cup, which seemed so temptingly close, was pushed beyond the fingers of Tampa Bay by Columbus coach John Tortorella.
The Lightning is not dead yet, but the coroner's van is inactive.
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"If you look at the big picture, I do not think that will help us," defender Ryan McDonagh said. "Our approach must be to leave with the same rhythm, the same execution, the same desperation."
The good news? There have been four times more comebacks since 3-0 in the NHL than in the NBA and Major League Baseball combined.
The bad news? The story says it still works for a long shot of 50 to 1 in hockey.
And unless there is a miraculous comeback, this will fall as one of the great landslides in modern sports.
This is worse than the Seattle Mariners of 2001 who won 116 games and failed to win the American League pennant. At least the Mariners won their first-round series and lost to a great team of the Yankees.
And this is worse than the 1996 Detroit Red Wings that won 62 games and could not get to the Stanley Cup final. At least the Red Wings reached the final of the conference and lost to No. 2 Colorado.
And this is much worse than the 2007 New England Patriots who went 16-0 and could not win the Super Bowl. At least the Pats were within a minute of beating the Giants and finishing undefeated.
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It is a special kind of misery to be so dominant in the regular season, and then to look so helpless when important games begin.
To paraphrase Victor Hedman:
So how did that 62-win season work for you?
There is a theory that the entire Tampa Bay postseason was corrupted by jumping to a 3-0 lead in the first period of Game 1 on Wednesday night. That simply fueled the dangerous perception that this team was above all others and that the players of Lightning could do what they wanted.
When Columbus refused to go to bed, Tampa Bay was caught unawares. And for a team that thought it had withstood the storms in the regular season, it discovered in Game 2 that there is another level of intensity that I knew nothing about.
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"You feel pretty good with yourself when you're up 3-0 and then you send a gift for that," coach Jon Cooper said. "It was the last 14 hard minutes of the third period (in Game 1) and the problem is that it was included in Game 2 and that surprised us a bit.
"Adversity hits in different ways and we have not had much in the regular season and we have it now."
This was supposed to be the season that would never end. People were going to talk forever about the best regular season in Tampa Bay history.
And I guess they will.
But for all the wrong reasons.
Contact John Romano in jr[email protected]. Follow @romano_tbtimes.