Ousted: Lightning loses scoring touch, loses series

by Gary Shelton on May 24, 2018 · 8 comments

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Brayden Coburn, Tom Wilson go after each other./JEFFREY S. KING

Braydon Coburn, Tom Wilson go after each other./JEFFREY S. KING

Thursday, 4 a.m.

Coburn and Wilson couldn't get enough of each other./JEFFREY S. KING

Coburn and Wilson couldn't get enough of each other./JEFFREY S. KING

The words were hollow, meaningless. Throughout the years, a hundred losing teams have repeated the clinches about losing and effort and bad breaks. Nothing new here.

The faces, however, told a different story. It was a tale of pain and loss, of coming from behind and then falling from ahead. The eyes were glassy, like a boxer who suffered a sudden, stinging knockout. The lips were drawn tight, as if to try to keep the bitter taste of elimination at bay. The chins were set, but they, too, tended to sag a bit. The eyes were red. The brows were furrowed.

Such is the image of failure that was engraved upon the faces of each member of the Tampa Bay Lightning. the team that forgot how to score, the team that had two chances to eliminate the Washington Caps and blew them both, a team that won only the silver medal in the Eastern Conference Finals.

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Point was close but no goal./JEFFREY S. KING

Point was close but no goal./JEFFREY S. KING

"It’s a speech you don’t prepare for," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper of his final message to his team. "I didn’t  think this was going to happen. It’s tough bottling the words now. It’s an empty feeling…I’m damn proud of them. A team that didn’t make the payoffs the year before and gets to game seven  of the conference final."

How do you measure a season? Was it a success because of the 113 points, or

Kucherov found the going tough all series./JEFFREY S. KING

Kucherov found the going tough all series./JEFFREY S. KING

because of the comeback against the Boston Bruins, or the rise from the floor against the Caps? Or was it underachievement? The Bolts were the best team in their conference during the regular season, and it didn't hold up. They had a 3-2 lead in the Eastern Conference, and it didn't last. Did this team underachieve? Or, when you look at the muscle of the Caps, did it finish about right?

Today, you can argue either way through your disappointment. Washington was better than the Bolts for longer stretches. And during the last 2:39.27, almost eight periods, the Lightning did not score. Not once. They lost three games at home in a best-of-seven series.

Normally, these seventh games are close affairs. Not this time. The Caps won relatively easily, surviving the Bolts' scoring chances and earning another shutout.

"I feel like we had a good enough team to be where we were," Cooper said. "You go through the playoffs and it felt like we could have won every game. We ran into

Stamkos jammed in front of the net./JEFFREY S. KING

Stamkos jammed in front of the net./JEFFREY S. KING

a tough Washington team that was feeling the same thing. For us to be down 2-0 and come back to win three in a row ... I’m pretty sure people weren’t counting on that to happen.

"When you get this far, for sure you think it’s your year, but I’m pretty sure they were thinking the same thing."

Cooper didn't think his team ran out of gas.

“I don’t think so," Cooper said. "(The Capitals) gave a pretty good defensive effort in Game 6, we had chances but not great ones. I didn’t think that was the case tonight though. If you would’ve told me that after watching two periods that we would be the team down 3-0, I would’ve said no way, but we were. That was tough. We know from personal experience that to get this far you need breaks to go your way, and I just felt like we pressed and pressed and pressed and they got the breaks that they needed and we didn’t. Over a series, they probably earned those breaks because they have a hell of a team. Obviously they gave us everything we could handle and more, and I congratulate them. Trotz did a really good job with their team.”

It may be hard to believe, but the Caps scored their game-winner 62 seconds into the first period when Alex Ovechkin scored his 12th goal of the playoffs. Andre Burakovsky scored two more goals and Nicholas Backstrom scored the final one in the 4-0 route.

In the meantime, the Bolts kept missing chances. Victor Hedman and Nikita

The puck is just beyond J.T. Miller's reach./JEFFREY S. KING

The puck is just beyond J.T. Miller's reach./JEFFREY S. KING

Kucherov each hit the post. Yanni Gourde missed a shot that was as close as a gimme putt. Alex Killorn missed on a breakaway.

"We had chances but not great ones," Cooper said. "After watching two periods, I wouldn't think we were going were going to be the team that’s down 2-0, but we were. That was tough. I know from personal experience you need the breaks to go your way. We pressed and pressed and pressed. They got the breaks they needed and we didn't."

The strangest part was that the Bolts, the highest scoring team in the league this year, were suddenly shooting blanks. It was early in the second period of Game Five they scored their last goal of the seven-game series.

Orpik slams Tyler Johnson into the boards./JEFFREY S. KING

Orpik slams Tyler Johnson into the boards./JEFFREY S. KING

"Sometimes you get beat by a team that is either better than you or executing better," said Lightning forward Steve Stamkos. "The majority of the series, they had the advantage on 5 x5. Their goalender gave them a spark. We couldn't buy one.

"Look at what we did to Boston in that series. Washington did it to us."

So you wonder. Is this the closing of the window on this team? If they start over, do they have another run in them?

“One thing bout Steve Yzerman... he seems to keep our window open every year," Cooper said. "That’s what makes him a hell of a general manager. I never think the window will ever be closed on this team."

Said Stamkos: "The window's not closed. This group is way too talented and still

Hedman was close to scoring, but didn't./JEFFREY S. KING

Hedman was close to scoring, but didn't./JEFFREY S. KING

very young. Just look at the team we lost to. They're continuing building to get a chance."

Dan Girardi will have mixed feelings about the season.

"Obviously great regular season, but that doesn't mean much come playoff time," Girardi said. "We had two good series against two good teams: New Jersey and Boston. We’ve got to give Washington credit. They played great all the games, came into our building and stole two. We were behind the eight ball pretty good there. We had to go into their building, pretty tough place to play, and we end up winning three in a row. We just couldn't get that last one there. I think Game 6 really hurt us, then they gained a lot of momentum from that. They felt really good about their game. They should. The last two games, they played great. You got to tip your cap sometimes. They played really good hockey. They’ve got a good team over there."

Said Hedman: "I don't know if we can describe it, but we put everything on the table tonight, especially in the first two periods. We had some unbelievable chances, puck just didn't go in. Their second goal was off (Dan Girard), and 99 out of 100, that's a non play. It's tough. It's tough. But at the end of the day, you have to give them credit. They have a really good hockey team, and it was a good series."


Holtby stops Stralman from scoring./JEFFREY S. KING

Holtby stops Stralman from scoring./JEFFREY S. KING

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Larry May 24, 2018 at 9:38 pm

I do think they need more bulk. This is something Yzerman’s Red Wings discovered when they tried to field an all skill team. They would dominate the regular season and get bounced early in the playoffs. When they added some size and toughness they won multiple Cups. The Lightning need to do the same thing but salary cap issues make it difficult.


Gary Shelton May 24, 2018 at 10:32 pm

I understand. I would love to be a fly on the wall of Yzerman’s office. Do you give up on Killorn and Johnson to find bigger bodies? A possibility.


Larry May 25, 2018 at 2:33 pm

I agree. I think you have to switch out Gourde, Johnson and Killorn for guys with some bulk and grit. The first 2 are not big enough and the latter has played his best hockey already. Do that and upgrade the defense a little more and the Lightning will be a team to reckon with.


Gary Shelton May 25, 2018 at 8:01 pm

Granted, Gourde and Johnson can have nights where they’re special. But I think they get pushed around.


Gary Shelton May 24, 2018 at 8:57 pm

Do you think they need to add bigger skaters?


Bill MYERS May 24, 2018 at 8:32 am

Nothing left to say ! The Bolts had a great 2018 season ! Sorry the breaks did not happen for them! Good luck to the Caps in the finals!


Larry Beller May 24, 2018 at 8:07 am

This one is a bitter pill. The moves that were made to add some pieces at the trade deadline seemed to put the Lighting over the top but it mattered little because the team stopped scoring at the end. For this team that lead the league in scoring during the regular season, to not score a goal in nearly the last 8 periods of the series is unfathomable.

Compare what Ovechkin did for his team to what Stamkos did for the Lighting in this series. Fair or not reputations of great players are made in the playoffs. This is true in all sports. Unfortunately Stamkos has never been great in the playoffs. Too many of the other top scorers for the Lightning were nowhere to be found in this series as well.

Getting to the conference finals in 3 out of the last 4 years is no small accomplishment. But the goal is to win a championship. The Lighting as currently constructed, doesn’t have the players to do that.


Gary Shelton May 24, 2018 at 8:59 pm

I wouldn’t say they don’t have the pieces. I just don’t think they have the bulk they need for the long playoffs.


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