Excellence doesn’t always win in the end

by Gary Shelton on April 12, 2019 · 1 comment

in general, Tampa Bay Lightning

Cooper needs Stamkos, Kucherov to play well./JEFFREY S. KING

Friday, 4 a.m.

There was a time when Goliath was the rage. He had had a record season, and he kept winning comebacks. No one could stop Goliath from scoring.

And then he lost.

And, yeah, the next day, his followers felt pretty much the way the Tampa Bay Lightning do.

How does this happen? How does a team that is so talented, so deep, so determined, lose to a upstart club that only made the playoffs on

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the last day of the season? How does it blow a 3-0 game at home? How does it stack the pressure against itself so quickly?

Granted, it was just one game and the stars didn't show up and the Bolts forgot to play defense and the power play was. unplugged and a team in control of he game lost its way. Still, one game is all the Columbus Blue Jackets could win Wednesday night. The Lightning, as a hockey team, finds itself dazed and bleeding.

Hey, it happens. In 1980, the vaunted Russian hockey team played a scruffy bunch of American overachievers, and we saw the Miracle on Ice. The wild-card New York Giants once beat an undefeated record-setting juggernaut called the New England Patriots. The Yankees once bounced a 116-game winner from Seattle in the playoffs.

In 1955, Ben Hogan lost to Jack Fleck in the U.S. Open. Buster Douglas once beat Mike Tyson. Rulon Gardner once beat Alexssndr Karelin.

Get the picture? The best team doesn't always win. That's why we watch, because games are uncertain and sports is unpredictable. A team shows up, and Nikita Kucherov is invisible and Steve Stamkos is a rumor and no one has seen Brayden Point and Andrei Vasilevskiy took a vacation.

Look, if you're betting money, you'd probably still think the Lightning will win. But none of us are as sure as we were before they dropped the puck Wednesday night, are we? Not after we watched Victor Hedman be mortal and the power play vanish and Tyler Johnson disappear. When that happens, fans tend to forget how good the regular season was. That was a long time ago.

What the Lightning has done is set themselves up for one of history's great stumbles.

You know, like when N.C. State beat Phi Slamma Jamma. When the Jets beat the Colts.  When a horse named Upset (that's where we get the word) beat Man o' War.

The problem, of course, is that great results lead to great expectations, which translates into pressure. To rebound, the Lightning is going to have to swallow the expectations and simply play hockey. They can't be tentative. They have to trust their abilities and ignore the fact they have one foot in the grave.

Another loss, and frankly, they're in trouble. They had the worst of all beginnings. Sure, they can still have the finest of all finishes. But it needs to start now.

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