It was a strange case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for the Tampa Bay Lightning, whose historic regular season was followed up with the worst playoff sweep imaginable.
Tampa Bay was a 128-point team that tied the NHL regular season record of 62 wins. The team was supposed to buzzsaw through their playoff competition, hoisting up the Stanley Cup when it was all said and done.
Not a single bettor took DraftKings Sportsbook’s 40 to 1 odds that the Columbus Blue Jackets would beat the Lightning.
Well, the Blue Jackets didn’t just beat the Presidents’ Trophy winners, they swept them.
“Yeah, it sucks,” said Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov. “Nothing was our way in the series. I don’t know what to say.”
Kucherov racked up 128 points in the regular season and was one of three Lightning players to have 40-plus goals. Yet, the All-Star forward was held off the playoff stat sheet until the fourth game.
The Lightning became the first team since the expansion era to get swept in the first round of the playoffs after leading the NHL in regular season points.
This series had a first for Columbus, too. After five postseason appearances, the Blue Jackets finally won their first-ever playoff series.
“It’s a great feeling to finally get one,” said Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard. “The job’s not done. We have to keep going.”
Tampa Bay swept Columbus in the regular season, so it was never supposed to be the other way around in the postseason.
But the Blue Jackets’ knack to score early in the series allowed them to rely heavily on their smothering 1-2-2 forecheck – something Tampa Bay wasn’t ready for.
“They never did that in the regular season,” said Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. “They were always chasing us.”
“They were the better team,” said team captain Steven Stamkos. “They executed their game plan. I don’t know what to say. If we had the answers we would have found a way to win a game.”
It was a complete effort from the Blue Jackets, who had 12 different players score in the series.
“I’m so happy for them because I think they really can see if you’re a unit you can get some things accomplished,” said Columbus head coach John Tortorella.
Tortorella actually led Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup championship in 2004. Perhaps his team captured lightning in a bottle with this win and the momentum can carry them the distance.
“I think this is a really good foundation, (and) you can do some really crazy things if you stay together as a unit,” he said.
As for the Lightning, eight different players scored, but none had more than one.
“A bounce here, a bounce there maybe it’s a different game,” said Lightning wing Ryan Callahan. “But at the end of the day it wasn’t good enough top to bottom from our team. A very structured team over there, played to their systems, didn’t waver and outplayed us for four games.”
Following the heart-wrenching loss, the Lightning issued an apology on Twitter to their fans.
The team wrote, “We don’t have any words and we know you don’t want to hear them.
“We understand your anger, your frustration, your sadness. Everything you’re feeling – we get it.
“This isn’t the ending we imagined, and certainly not the one we wanted. Thank you for being there the entire way.”
Chris began his writing as a hobby while attending Florida Southern College in Lakeland, Florida. Today he and his wife live in the Orlando area with their three children and dog.