The Tampa Bay Lightning won 62 games this season, more than anyone in the history of ever. But as the regular season ended and the irregular loffs began, the Bolts found themselves outmatched by the eighth-seeded Columbus Blue Jackets.
In one of the biggest upsets in NHL playoffs history, the Blue Jackets just eliminated the Lightning, knocking the Presidents’ Trophy winners out in the first round.
Tampa dropped a tight opener 4-3 after Columbus clawed their way back from being down 3-0. The next two games were clinics in — and I can’t believe I’m saying this — John Tortorella out-coaching Jon Cooper. The Blue Jackets suffocated the Lighting 5-1 and then 3-1, offering few power-play opportunities to the league’s best power-play team. Tampa’s Art Ross winner Nikita Kucherov missed Game Three after boarding Markus Nutivaara.
Speaking with the media following Game Three, Cooper called his team’s situation a five-alarm fire.
On Tuesday night, that fire was put out. Columbus got scoring from their depth to secure an early lead. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was magnificent in the third period as Tampa mounted a futile comback. Columbus scored three empty-netters in the final two minutes as the ‘lebration in ‘lumbus erupted.
The Blue Jackets bench reacts to Panarin's ENG … pic.twitter.com/6eU1PHAGim
— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) April 17, 2019
As one analyst put it:
biggest choke job in nhl history, holy shit
— dom luszczyszyn 🍁 (@domluszczyszyn) April 17, 2019
As another “analyst” put it:
The future is still bright for Tampa. Coach Jon Cooper just signed a contract extension. In addition Anton Stralman and Braydon Coburn (both defenders in their thirties), the only critical expiring contract is Braden Point‘s entry-level deal. Tampa will have to move some contracts around to make room, but they will remain a fearsome team next season, albeit one with a chip on their shoulder.
Meanwhile, the Columbus Blue Jackets, have been paid back for their bold trade-deadline gamble. They chose to add Matt Duchene rather than dealing two stars on expiring deals, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. It worked. The Blue Jackets have won their very first playoff series in franchise history. The dragonslayers will next face the winner of the Boston-Toronto series.
P.S. The Presidents’ Trophy slot still has the best history of winning the Cup. Don’t believe in curses.
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