Isn’t it kind of appropriate, for an area that’s used to the weather patterns we are, that we get a really intense and potentially dangerous storm that attacks with fierce precision, multiple threats, and no sign of slowing down…
…and before long…
…it just…fizzles out.
That’s pretty much exactly what happened to the 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning.
Record setting point and win totals. Personal accolades. Team dominance. Not only did they clinch a playoff spot in incredible time, but they clinched the PRESIDENT’S TROPHY, the award that goes to the top point getting team in the league for the Regular Season, before ANY OTHER TEAM in the Eastern Conference clinched a playoff spot.
Now, if you’re new to Hockey, understand, it’s widely known that the Presidents Trophy is the kiss-of-death of all kisses-of-death in the sport. You don’t win the Season and then cake walk to the Cup. There is no cake walk to the Cup. There is a reason it’s said that the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy in sports to win, and it keeps being proven right.
When the Lightning sprinted out to a 3-0 lead after the first period in Game 1, it couldn’t have felt more obvious that the Bolts would simply handle the Columbus Blue Jackets. But what came was the proverbial egg on the face of the Lightning. Underwhelming efforts from their stars, which included most importantly, the offensive crown jewel of the team, Nikita Kucherov, who’s Art Ross effort (Most Points in a season) is just not that impressive anymore, clearly showing his emotions at the end of Game 2, with frustrated actions that led to his suspension for Game 3. This is not the Kuch we watched all season.
And then…Steven Stamkos. The #1 Overall Pick the Bolts inherited in the 2008 Entry Draft. Stamkos, the Captain of the team, started the season off slow but rebounded to collect 98 points for his team this year. He’s been productive in past Playoff campaigns, namely the 18 points (7g, 11a) in the Cup Final run in 2015, and the 16 points (7g, 9a) in last years Playoffs. But there is a disturbing stat that can only be exposed when things go wrong:
Stamkos’s last six playoff games. Over the same span, Kucherov has one assist (in that first game) and a one-game suspension. <slow whistle> pic.twitter.com/MUEc2LEgoQ
— Japers’ Rink 🏆 (@JapersRink) April 15, 2019
Of course, to be fair, Stammer scored a goal on Tuesday Night, but…you see where I’m going with this?
However, the problem, for me, wasn’t the offensive production, the defensive meltdowns, the special teams failures…all of which WERE problems. The problem is the reaction to these events. Post-game press conferences tell EVERYTHING you need to know, and in this day and age, we can all watch them. This team was not angry. Intense. Pissed. Motivated. Annoyed.
We got the “we know we can do better, so we need to do better next game and do better” comments. The kind of comments that New York Ranger fans (like myself, at a time) came to be annoyed by from the likes of Ryan Callahan and Ryan McDonagh. Where’s the vinegar. Where’s the Salt. Where’s the emotion it takes to win the Stanley Cup. The Grit. The Heart.
Looking forward to next season, we can be sure the Lightning still have the framework to have a season like they had this year. Stars to score and produce at will. A strong defense centered around Victor Hedman, and yes, even Ryan McDonagh. Andrei Vasilevskiy isn’t expected to get worse with age, so things can hold steady there. Jon Cooper is getting up there in years with one team, statistically speaking, but signed an extension.
But you’ll have time this summer, Lightning fans…to figure out where the grit and heart come from next season.
You’ll just have more time to think about it than ANY of us planned.