Bolts lose Stanley Cup; season is over

by Gary Shelton on June 27, 2022

in general

Stamkos scored the only Lightning goal./TIM WIRT

Monday, 4 a.m.

The wrong team was dancing. A championship had been won, and the wrong team was rushing across the ice.

The players of the Tampa Bay Lightning looked on glass-jawed, in disbelief, as the celebration by the Colorado Avalanche went on. The players watched, stunned. They thought they would win -- heck, they always think they are going to win -- and they had not. Who would have comprehended that?

A dynasty ended on Sunday night. The Lightning lost a 2-1 game, and a series, and their hold on a title. The Stanley Cup is moving to Denver. As hard as it is to say, the Lightning is second-best.

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Vasilevskiy allowed only two goals./TIM WIRT

"Winning is ecstasy," said Lightning coach Jon Cooper. "Losing sucks."

True, the silliest thing in the world is that the loser of a championship game is somehow a disappointment. It isn't. The Bolts had a terrific post-season, coming from behind to beat Toronto, sweeping the Panthers, coming from behind to beat the Rangers. They had enough heart, enough grit, enough will to win three series as an underdog. They lacked the scoring punch of prior seasons, particularly with Brayden Point out, but they were tough, and they were resilient, and they were hard to beat.

They won 11 straight series, the third most in NHL history. They outran faster teams, teams that had the advantage on them.

"I will always remember this team for what they endured, what they went through to get here," Cooper said. "You have to marvel at them. It’s a little shock and awe what this team accomplished. It was different than the other (years).

"The teams we faced — you go through the Toronto, the Florida Panthers and the Rangers. We never had home ice. We played all these star-studded teams and they found a way. We just ran into one more brick wall. We üst couldn’t get through this. But the three teams we played — they could be out here now raising the Stanley Cup. That’s how good they were."

But all of that is tomorrow's consolation. For now, there is disappointment. The players. The fans. Everyone.

“It’s tough because it’s so raw," Cooper said. "We haven’t been through this feeling in three years.

"The Avalanche are a class act and an exceptional hockey team. They bettered us. We have no bones to pick. Never ever say we should have beat that team. We were right there with that team. It's not like we lost to some powder puff team . That’s a baller hockey team over there. " 

So what beat the Bolts? Bad special teams. Injuries. Overtime losses.

“A lot of the guys ... what they put themselves through is mind boggling," Cooper said. "We would have half of our minor league team playing if it was regular season. You get bumps and bruises here or there, but nothing like I saw with this group."

Said Pat Maroon: “When the injury report comes out, you guys are going to be shocked.”

The Bolts took an early lead in this one when Steven Stamkos scored 3:48 into the game. But the Bolts didn't get enough of from their early outburst, and they finished with only 23 shots.

Nathan MacKinnon tied the game early in the second period, and Arturi Lehkonen scored the winner midway though the period. Cale Makar won the Conn Smythe award.

Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy wasn't as dynamic as he was the season before, but he stopped 28 pf 30 shots.

"We’re not done," Cooper said. "The last eight years we’ve been to six conference championships. Today is a crushing loss. We played this whole season to get to this goal. We finished two days short of being a part of history.

"These guys are right up there with the Islanders, the Oilers, the teams you talk about for decades. I hope people talk about that group in there for decades. You don’t do this by fluke. They warriored their way. We met our match in this series, but I hope people write about this team for years."

McDonagh blocks another puck to help Vasilevskiy./TIM WIRT

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