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Lightning’s sad sweep again underscores why being the best team in the NHL is the worst

The Blue Jackets ousted the NHL’s easiest regular-season staff, the Tampa Bay Lightning, in 4 video games. (Kirk Irwin/Getty Photographs)

The night the Tampa Bay Lightning was officially presented the Presidents’ Trophy, the NHL’s award to the team with the best regular-season record, the Washington Capitals were in the building, waiting in the locker room during the ceremony. The Capitals had won it three times since 2010, so they knew to keep a safe distance from what’s a nice achievement on its own but toxic when it comes to winning the sport’s ultimate prize. As Tampa Bay won a whopping 62 games this season, lapping the field, Washington might have seen the Lightning’s unfortunate fate coming.

“Typically when things are going really well for you and you’re having a lot of success, at least from my experience, the longer that success was coming, the easier it was to forget how you created that success,” Capitals forward T.J. Oshie said a month ago.

It was eerily similar to what Lightning Coach Jon Cooper said after the Columbus Blue Jackets completed their shocking first-round sweep of Tampa Bay on Tuesday night.

“In today’s game with the parity, it’s not unusual that an eight [seed] beats a one anymore,” Cooper told reporters in Columbus. “Everybody’s that close. In the end, we just couldn’t find our game. That’s it. It’d been with us all year, and for six days in April, we couldn’t find it.”

No league is as unintentionally cruel to its top seed as the NHL. In the 32 years that the Presidents’ Trophy has been awarded, just eight teams that claimed it have gone on to win the Stanley Cup; the 2012-13 Chicago Blackhawks are the last team to pull it off, and that was the lockout-shortened season. The Capitals finished with the league’s best regular-season record in 2010 (first-round loss), 2016 (second-round loss) and 2017 (second-round loss) before winning a franchise-first Stanley Cup last year, when Nashville won the Presidents’ Trophy and then got eliminated in the second round. The playoffs have repeatedly proven that it’s about which team is playing best in the moment rather than which team is the best, and this historic exit — Tampa Bay is the first Presidents’ Trophy team to be swept in the first round — could have ripple effects throughout the league for years to come with how clubs approach the regular season.

“When you have the amount of points we had, it’s a blessing and a curse,” Cooper said. “You don’t play any really meaningful hockey for a long time, then all of a sudden you’ve got to amp it up. It’s not an excuse, it’s reality. That’s how it goes, and so you have a historic regular season the way we did and then had basically a historic playoff in defeat.”

It’s laborious to argue the Lightning will have to have purposefully misplaced extra video games this season. And no staff would search out adversity. However most likely there truly is one thing predictive, and unfavourable, about taking part in such a lot good fortune sooner than the chase for the sport’s most sensible prize truly starts.

Right through the steady season, Tampa Bay had the NHL’s most sensible energy play, most sensible penalty kill and scored essentially the most targets in line with sport. The staff had Nikita Kucherov, who submit a league-leading 128 issues this season, and two different gamers — Steven Stamkos and Brayden Level — completed with greater than 90. All 3 then fell brief towards Columbus. Kucherov tallied simply two issues with out a targets in 3 video games performed, suspended Recreation Three of the collection after he needlessly boarded Columbus’ Markus Nutivaara overdue in a Recreation 2 blowout. Stamkos completed with an abysmal minus-Eight ranking with only one function and one lend a hand, and Level scored one function with out a assists.

The Lightning had a Three-Zero lead within the first length of the primary contest, however then the Blue Jackets stormed again to win that sport and each different, outscoring Tampa Bay 19-Five over the general 11 sessions of the collection. Most sensible defenseman Victor Hedman was once out Video games Three and four as a result of an undisclosed harm.

“In the event you don’t accomplish your function of successful all of it, it’s a failure,” Stamkos advised journalists. “We don’t care about what took place within the steady season.”

Others will be told from the Lightning’s downfall, however the Blue Jackets’ daring option to this season may just in a similar fashion turn out to be a style. Columbus was once ready to make the playoffs sooner than the late-February industry closing date, however it wasn’t a positive factor and there was once not anything glaring that urged this crew will be the one to in spite of everything win a sequence for the primary time in franchise historical past. Basic Supervisor Jarmo Kekalainen had a conundrum on his roster: the staff’s maximum gifted participant, winger Artemi Panarin, wouldn’t decide to re-signing, so Kekalainen needed to imagine dealing him to get some go back at the asset fairly than lose him for not anything in unfastened company. He made up our minds to carry onto Panarin for the postseason push after which doubled down, obtaining pending unfastened agent forwards Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from Ottawa in a haul that integrated no less than one first-round select and two second-rounders.

The Blue Jackets struggled right away after the trades, however then they surged, successful seven in their ultimate 10 video games. Simply coming into the postseason, the closing staff to punch its price tag, gave Columbus a possibility. May that result in normal managers now being extra competitive with in-season offers? Duchene scored 3 targets with 4 assists within the Blue Jackets’ 4 playoff video games.

After Stamkos scored his lone function of the collection Eight:44 into Recreation four to halve Columbus’s lead, the digital camera confirmed Cooper at the Tampa Bay bench imploring his gamers. “That is our [expletive] likelihood,” he gave the impression to say. The Lightning tied it at Three in the second one length, however then the Blue Jackets pulled again forward not up to a minute later and stayed there. There’s a case to be made that such a lot regular-season good fortune doesn’t get ready a staff for the adversity it would face within the playoffs. It additionally provides power; the Tampa Bay Instances newspaper introduced it might produce a hardcover coffee-table guide at the Lightning’s season without reference to without equal end result.

Tampa Bay complicated to the Stanley Cup finals in 2015, shedding to the Blackhawks, and the staff has gotten to the Jap Convention finals two times since. However for a way a lot skill is at the roster, the Lightning has taken over the postseason underachievers mantle over from the Capitals. Overturning a roster that had such a lot regular-season good fortune and incorporates one of the vital easiest bargains within the league would most certainly be an overreaction. Cooper’s activity turns out protected after he signed a multi-year extension throughout the season.

If Washington may just impart some recommendation, it’d most certainly be to stick affected person.

“It’s humorous, we had been anticipated to move some distance this yr, and we cross nowhere,” Cooper mentioned. “What number of groups have long gone thru this? They knock on the door, they knock on the door, and have a look at Washington for instance. Didn’t they win the Presidents’ [Trophy]? They’d two exceptional years and had been bounced in the second one around, and the yr that no person anticipated them to do anything else, they gained the Stanley Cup. I imply, it’s loopy the way it works, however that’s what occurs.”

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