Joseph A. Griswold –Assistant Sports Editor
This year the Tampa Bay Lightning had as many post-season wins as the Atlanta Thrashers. The only problem is, the Atlanta Thrashers have not been in the NHL since 2011.
After a historic regular season, which saw the Lightning tie the 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings for all time wins in the regular season (62); The Lightning fell flat on their face getting swept out of the playoffs by the eighth-seed Columbus Blue Jackets. So, what happened and what is next.
Simply put, the Lightning got outplayed, outcoached and outworked across the board. Game one serves as the perfect exemplar as the Lightning held a 3-0 lead in the first period, but failed to close the game out and ended up losing game one 4-3.
Throughout the series there seemed to be a complete lack of urgency, especially from the top players of the Lightning. Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson, who accounted for 156 goals in the regular season, only accounted for a combined two goals in the four game sweep.
Another major issue for the Lightning was their special teams play. Despite leading the league in power play goals in the regular season the Lightning were just 1-for-6 while the Blue Jackets went 5-for-10 with the man advantage.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the series was the lack-luster play of Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy, and the dominant play of Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Coming into the series, Vasilevskiy was clearly seen as the goaltender with the edge as Bobrovsky has been known to struggle during the post-season. However, when the series ended it was Bobrovsky who led his team to a series with an impressive .932 save percentage and a 2.01 goals-against-average. Vasilevskiy, on the other hand struggled mightily with a .856 save percentage and a 3.82 goals-against-average.
The last major advantage came in coaching. Columbus Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella, with his fiery, energetic coaching style pushed his team and made on-the-fly adjustments that smothered Tampa Bay’s top ranked offense. Tortorella, and the Blue Jackets clearly learned form the previous year where they took a 2-0 series lead against the Washington Capitals only to lose four straight to the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. On the other side, Lightning head coach Jon Cooper never seemed to realize his team was down in the series and made almost no adjustments throughout the series. Cooper is often known for his cool-demeanor, but this time it seems to have led to lackadaisical play for his team.
For the Lightning this season will forever be looked back upon as what could have been; however, for the Blue Jackets the road may just be beginning.