The unthinkable has happened. Not even the few who gave Columbus a chance could have predicted a first-round sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning. TBL was not only the heavy favorite to win Lord Stanley’s Cup but certain to coast in the first round. Someone forgot to tell the team in Union Blue that they were only here to lose to the eventual Champions.
There are two sides to what happened in this series.
View from Tampa:
There were too many turnovers. Sloppy play allowed Columbus to have opportunities. The Lightning players need to be more crisp with their passes and make smarter exits from the zone.
Stars didn’t play like stars. There was little production from the top players. Players like Stamkos (2 points), Point (1 point) and Kucherov (2 points) needed to control the play and create scoring chances.
Failure to make necessary adjustments. Jon Cooper believed that TBL hockey would win out. The talent of the Bolts would be enough during a 7-game series against an overmatched Jackets team. Why change what has worked in 62 out of 82 games this season. Results will come, TBL just needed to continue to play their game.
Poor goaltending had TBL playing from behind. Vas didn’t show up when he was needed.
View from Columbus:
Bobrovsky had an outstanding series. He made highlight reel saves and rarely had to scramble. ‘Playoff Bob’ is a thing of the pasted, demons exercised.
The blueliners stifled the TBL attack. Blocked shots (62 in four games) were critical in shutting down Tampa and keeping them to one-and-done opportunities. Zone exits were spot on with a significant drop in turnovers (18 in four games) leaving the zone. Defensemen pinched and jumped in on offense at key points making big offensive contributions.
Pending UFAs put on a performance to justify their next contract. Bob (mentioned above), Duchene (7 points) and Panarin (5 points) had a great series.
The reality of the series is a mix of the above.
The Lightning made mistakes and had some poor play. But the Jackets also took advantage of opportunities they were given. Think about Savard jumping a poor outlet pass and shaking Hedman to score in the comeback during Game 1. CBJ also had 5 power play goals in 10 chances.
Duchene and Panarin lead the series in points. Duchene had 6 of his 7 points in two games, and 2 of Panarin’s point were on empty net goals with a third point being the 5th goal in Game 2 after TBL had all but given up. I don’t point this out to take anything away from their point totals, but to show that sometimes stats can be misleading.
Some truths are hard to deny
In analyzing some stats glaring things popped out. TBL was sloppy with the puck. Total giveaways for the series were TBL 36, CBJ 18. In Game 1 Tampa coughed it up 8 times giving Columbus the chance to make that comeback. CBJ controlled Game 2 giving the puck away only twice to the Bolts 9 times. The tight Game 3 had this stat almost even TBL 7, CBJ 6. In the deciding (and more wide open) Game 4 Tampa took chances and turned it over 12 times and C-Bus only 6.
Its hard to argue with how good Bobrovsky was in this series. Two key saves in period 2 of Game 1 allowed the Jackets time to mount a comeback and overcome a three-goal deficit. His save percentage only dropped below .900 in Game 4 and he gave up just a single goal in each of Game 2 and 3. His stat line for the series reads: Four wins (and 0 losses), 8 goals against, 2.01 GAA and .932 Sv%.
In a surprising Tweet the TBL Organization offered what can only describe as a thank you apology to their fans. It is an odd thing to read coming directly from the team but seems to make sense given the situation. Link to the Tweet: https://twitter.com/TBLightning/status/1118332281825968128
Where does Tampa go from here. Sports have a funny way of giving an opportunity at redemption. Take the NCAA Men’s Basketball Champion Virginia Cavaliers. They completed an amazing run, winning the school’s first NCAA Men’s National Title. But one year ago, they entered the NCAA tournament as the ACC Champion, with only 2 losses on the season, and a number one seed. UMBC (16 seed) was their opponent. The Retrievers handed Virginia a 20-point defeat. In this year’s tournament they were again a #1 seed but with less acclaim. This time they underestimated no one, winning a 4-point game, a 1-point game and two OT games including the final.
My point is that Tampa will get another chance. This team is good, maybe even great. I know their goal is to hoist the Cup and this is a step backward. It can also be motivation and a lesson that helps them focus and prepare for next season.
Or, as many fans have suggested, TBL could blow up the team and start over. That is an emotional, knee-jerk reaction. Hopefully the front office will take a careful evaluation of what they have and position the team in the best way for next season. Although winning fans back will be a tough road after this exit.
Who do you want to see the Jackets face in Round 2: TOR or BOS?
Playing GM, what would you do with this TBL team preparing for 2019-2020?