"We are still playing on Tuesday, we are still alive." That's Lightning's head coach, Jon Cooper, who offers an exhaustive list of everything positive about this first round series for Tampa, which could actually end on Tuesday, but not in a way that he or anyone else I could have predicted.
It's not just that the Lightning are down 3-0 against the Blue Jackets. It's that the 62-win Rayo, with the most points for any team since 1996, is losing 3-0 to the stuttering Blue Jackets, who have never won a playoff series in their existence, and are getting sacrificed. Take out the first period of Game 1, the last time the Lightning seemed to remember how to play hockey, much less the winners of the Presidents' Trophy they are, and Columbus is beating Tampa 12-2. This is the first time all season that Tampa has lost three games in a row.
"If you look at the big picture, I do not think that helps us," said Ryan McDonagh, and he's right in the sense that the big picture looks like one of the biggest collapses in the history of the NHL and Rayo probably will not. make. I want to insist on that, but wrong in the sense that even the mere fact of seeing Sunday's 3-1 loss in Columbus is ugly enough. The Lightning were without their best scorer and their best defense (Nikita Kucherov was suspended and Victor Hedman is injured), and Steven Stamkos had more hits than shots on goal:
The Lightning will try to continue its performance from the third period, in which they scored 17 shots and reduced the deficit by half, although they could not beat Sergei Bobrovsky for the second time. It was the first period since the opening round of the series where they seemed to be the best team on the ice, but it's a bit difficult to pin down exactly why the Lightning have been fighting like that. They are being overcome in each phase of the game, to the point that if you did not know better, you would say that the Blue Jackets were the most talented team. The local newspaper is blaming the Tampa machine gun effort for the lack of "guts," which is a bit tiring but it's also an extremely natural reaction. When a series challenges an explanation, there is always an explanation found in the intangible.
All this hurts the Blue Jackets, who are not exactly sitting and watching the Lightning hit themselves. They are dominating at both ends of the ice and in special teams, and Bobrovsky is beating Andrei Vasilevskiy, and they are one win away from the first playoff series in the history of the franchise. (His local newspaper attributes it to "grit." It's funny how that works).
This series is not over, or at least it is less finished than it would be in other sports. Four NHL teams have returned from 3-0 series deficits, two of them in the last decade. One of them even managed to win the Cup. If the Lightning are still the best team in hockey (and that's the kind of thing that usually does not change over the course of a week), it will not be enough. They will also have to act under adversity and pressure for the first time throughout the year, and they will have to be extremely lucky. Otherwise, a historically good team will make the bad history clbad.