Bolts on the Brink: Can Lightning Salvage Historic Season?

Playoff hockey is weird, and that’s exactly why we all love it so much. There’s nothing else like it in sports, since the difference between the best team in the league and the last one to squeak into a playoff spot is, typically, nominal. Any combination of a hot goaltender, solid defensive play and consistent offensive output can carry a middling team deep into the postseason, sometimes even to the Stanley Cup.

Nowhere is this more evident than what is currently happening between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1. Heading into their series, the Lightning were the overwhelming favorites after posting a historic 62-win season.

Bill Daly, Steven Stamkos
After winning 62 games in the regular season en route to their first Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history, the Tampa Bay Lightning were clear Stanley Cup favorites heading into the postseason. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

But when actual playoff hockey started, the Blue Jackets jumped out to a 2-0 series lead. First and foremost, credit to Columbus because they have simply outplayed Tampa Bay in their first two games.

However, this raises a huge question for the Lightning. How are one of the best teams in recent memory getting absolutely stomped by the Blue Jackets?

Lazy Hockey Costing Lightning

Throughout the regular season, it became of a bit of a joke amongst Lightning fans that the team was attempting to play as little hockey as possible while still winning games. By January, Tampa Bay turned this joke into an art form, oftentimes only playing full-speed hockey for one or two periods each night. In those periods, they would rely on raw talent to score three or four goals, putting the game out of reach while stellar goaltending covered their lackadaisical play in the rest of the game.

After jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first period of Game 1, you could see the Lightning flip that switch again. They started playing with the same intensity of a mid-January tilt, floating around the ice while they waited for the game to come to them. By the time that they realized that the Blue Jackets weren’t quitting, they gave up four goals and lost all momentum in the series.

Cody Eakin, Andrei Vasilevskiy
Despite being a Vezina Caliber goaltender in the regular season, Andrei Vasilevski has shrunk in the playoff spotlight, failing to make the save after the Lightning’s defense made mistakes. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

In Game 2, the Lightning entered in a complete daze, still in shock after blowing their Game 1 lead. At no point were they even remotely competitive, taking stupid penalties while overthinking the basics of the game. They lacked all of the passion that took them to 62 wins this season, showing that they weren’t ready for a fight in Round 1.

Lightning Not Respecting Playoff Hockey

Simply put, the Lightning didn’t respect playoff hockey, nor their first-round opponent. They felt that they could play only half a game and still win, as they had throughout the regular season. Instead, they received a swift punch to the chin and completely folded.

If you turned on any other playoff game, you saw the passion that Tampa Bay was sorely lacking. In those games, both teams were fighting tooth and nail for every inch on the ice, not wanting to give their opponents any advantage.

Related: Lightning Need This Test From the Blue Jackets

You didn’t get this from the Lightning in Game 2. They looked scared and slow on the ice, as if the thought that they weren’t going to waltz back to the Eastern Conference Finals was weighing them down.

Lightning Can Right Ship, but Will They?

Yes, it is true that the Lightning have the talent and players to make a comeback in this series, much like how the Washington Capitals did one year ago. However, after two games, Tampa Bay hasn’t shown that they have what it takes to make that comeback happen.

Tampa Bay Lightning Steven Stamkos
After two games in the 2019 playoffs, the Lightning have folded under the pressure of being the top-ranked team, looking slow and out of place on the ice. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

The worst part is, as a veteran team who have been here before, the Lightning should be able to handle this pressure. But, it just goes to show that playoff hockey is weird, and sometimes, the better team isn’t the record-setting one.