By Logan Franz
The 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning had just come off a historic regular season. They had led the league in pretty much every offensive stat in existence. Nikita Kucherov had a league-leading 128 points and was the frontrunner to win the Hart Trophy. And on Tuesday, the Lightning were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs. How did this happen?
Columbus acquired talent at the trade deadline such as Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. It took a while for that talent to gel and find their footing but they did so at the right time. The Blue Jackets made it into the playoffs on the heels of winning seven of their final eight games, three of which were shutout wins. Columbus also saw stellar play from their goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, who finished the four game series with a save percentage of 94.1%, allowing just five goals on 84 shots.
Duchene, the trade deadline acquisition from Ottawa, notched three goals in this series with four assists. Artemi Panarin who is trying to make a case for a new contract this offseason showed why he’s worth it and put up 5 points in four games (2 goals, 3 assists). The star players for the Blue Jackets stepped up and all attributed to the sweep of a historic regular season team.
Tampa Bay’s Struggles
The Lightning also struggled in the series and weren’t playing like the President’s Trophy winners. Andrei Vasilevskiy boasted a top-ten save percentage in the NHL during the regular season with 92.5% and when the playoffs arrived, that number dropped incredibly to 86.6% where Vasilevskiy allowed 11 goals on 82 shots.
If Columbus’s best players showed out in this series, Tampa Bay’s clearly did not. Kucherov only played in three of the four game sin this series and he put up 2 assists and had a -4 plus/minus.. Steven Stamkos had a -8 plus/minus and only recorded a goal and an assist. Victor Hedman, the team’s leading defenseman who also missed Game 3 of the series with Kucherov, found himself with a -2 plus/minus. Tyler Johnson found himself with a -3 plus/minus and only recording one assist on the series.
The best players for the Lightning were not playing like their best players and Columbus was able to easily exploit that.
The 2018-19 Lightning were making history. They were the best regular season team we’ve seen in a long time and then they made history again in the playoffs but for reasons no one could have envisioned happening. They’re the first team in NHL history to win the President’s Trophy and get swept in the first round.
It seems like something is always going awry for them in the playoffs and they can never finish the job and win the Cup. The one time they did win the Eastern Conference in the past few years, Tyler Johnson broke his wrist, Ben Bishop tore his groin and the Lightning ended up losing in the Finals to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
It just speaks to the unpredictability of sports. Sometimes, no one can imagine what will happen until it truly does happen. As for the Blue Jackets, they’re no pushover. They just took down the best team in the NHL and that deserves credit. They’re definitely a team that a lot of people will have their eyes on once the second round begins.
Edited by Garrett Jones | firstname.lastname@example.org