They don’t call the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs the Second Season for nothing. Accomplishments during the NHL’s regular season be damned; everything starts at zero, every team starts on an even keel. Every team has a chance.
Game One and the first period of play, the Lightning did what was expected of them. The high flying ability of the 2018-19 President Trophy winning club was on display.
After the first intermission of Game One of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals, things changed. The next eight periods of play were rife with… what? I don’t know. It just didn’t come off like the gameplay that so many bore witness to from the club during the regular season. Chippiness, penalties, scrums, and fights. One might put the spotlight on the Columbus Blue Jackets for that as if they were the antagonists… No, no… It was an NHL game and the team that was antagonizing most heavily was the Lightning. Penalizations ensued. Opportunities rained down on the Jackets by way of it.
Eight periods of play – the bulk of Game One, Game Two and THree in full… the damage was done and Columbus capitalized on it with sound play, leading to their own imposing play and victories. Excuses could be made — primarily that chief defenseman Victor Hedman was playing while injured and was sidelined with Anton Stralman for Game Four — but that’s just it, an excuse. That’s not to say Hedman being hurt didn’t cause issues, it’s that what was going on in Lightning team play wasn’t defensive lapses. It was overall team play and perhaps game-plan lapses
The titans of contention during the 2018-19 regular season turned into the also-ran roster of the 2019 Second Season. That’s it. That’s the way to look at it.
The NHL had mediocrity and wavering team statuses all season long; the East seemed weak and the West seemed curious — the rise and fall of the Ducks, the down-and-then-dominant St. Louis Blues. The Lightning played above it and stayed above it while mediocrity seemed the standard through the league. It, the impressive play that turned into a historic season of record-breaking, added to expectations as the season went on — the Lightning was the team. They were focused on play and they were focused on achievement.
That’s the whole kicker that’s got me lit up with discontent — while I’m seeing a lot of fans with their knee-jerk reaction dread and hate and despair at the historic playoff fallacy, I’m awash in the on-ice style change that contrasted what the Lightning had stood for during regular-season play.
Were things said on-ice by the Blue Jackets that set the Bolts off? Pfft! As if the Columbus roster said something different than what the Lightning had heard during the previous 82 games. It just stands out how things changed in play during Game One and the change held on during the majority of the series. Game Four saw the Bolts switch back, and I don’t pinpoint this on scoring as-so-much less on-ice stupidity regressing… Well, regressing after Columbus lit the lamp twice in the first period (one by way of a power play earned merely seconds into the game), things changed for the better.
After the damage had already been done. Well after the hole wass dug.
Going forward, the Bolts challenge this off-season is to restructure the team defense. That’s not a shot at the blueline as-so-much knowing the contract situation and aging of the likes of Dan Girardi, Braden Coburn, and Anton Stralman. The latter two have been benchmark players for the Lightning defense the past few years.
There are other questions and concerns to take but right now, it’s a time of mourning. High expectations have turned to grief. Negativity is rampant on social media and in professional media reports. Hell, this write-up is more negativity as I call a spade a spade. The 2019 Tampa Bay Lightning powerless prowess of the Playoffs has mired the franchise and broken hearts. It compliments the futility of Tampa Bay sports in a very painful fashion.
The NHL’s Second Season marches on and where the glory of Lord Stanley’s Cup falls remains to be seen. What we know for a fact is that Stanley ain’t getting a tan this summer.