Lightning-Blue Jackets report card: 62 wins that didn’t mean a thing

 tampabay.com  4/17/2019 2:05:00 AM   Martin Fennelly

Hey, how ‘bout those Rays?

So much for the Cup.

The runaway season hit the brick wall in Columbus on Tuesday night.

The Lightning, which won 62 games and set records this season, lost the second season before it hardly began, getting swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets to complete one of the great flops in sports history, certainly the biggest in Tampa Bay sports history.

It’s not even close.

The Blue Jackets closed out the Lightning, 7-3. The Lightning, the best team in the NHL during the regular season, was the worst team when it mattered most. It was out-hustled and out-hit and out-coached, by Johnny Torts no less. Ouch.

It will be hard to ever trust this team’s game again.

All the talk about how they’d learned over the past five years and they get swept, just like they were by Montreal in 2014, their first playoff season under Jon Copper. Now this. Did this team learn anything? Will it ever learn anything?

No one saw this coming. Revisionist will come out of the woodwork, saying there were signs all along. And maybe there were. But no one saw this.

62 wins and a cloud of dust.

Turn out the lights on the way out of the season.

The runaway season turned into a flying coffin. Here are the grades:

A bad start and instant hole

This was win or go home? This game was less than four minutes old and Columbus had a 2-0 lead. It was no way to start a game the Lightning needed to win. It should not have taken that deficit to wake up. Grade: F

Cooper’s gambit

Columbus appeared to go up 3-1 and yet another power play, but Cooper and the Lightning challenged that the play was offsides. A review upheld the challenge and kept this a game. Soon the Lightning scored. Cooper clapped his hands and yelled on the bench. We haven’t seen that much from him. Grade: A

Big three, finally

Steve Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and Brayden Point finally showed up. Stamkos scored after a nifty fake followed by a one-timer for the Lightning’s first goal Point tied it at 3-3 late in the second period. Kucherov, who was suspended for Game 3, assisted on both goals. Grade: B

Instant hole, Part II

The Lightning had no sooner climbed into the game on a deflection by Cedric Paquette followed by Point’s backhander when Columbus took the lead again, just 54 seconds after Point tied it. The whole deal summed up the series, that inability of the Lightning to take control of situations. They never had a grip on this thing. Grade: C

What happened to the depth?

Losing Victor Hedman, who missed the final two games of the series, mattered greatly. The Lightning’s game flows form Hedman’s game. He wasn’t even 100 percent to start the series after a late-season injury. His absence is not why the Lightning lost to Columbus, but it certainly didn’t help. There’s no replacing for stars. Grade: C.

Vasy’s great, but what about Bob?

Their guy was better. Sergei Bobrovsky outplayed Andrei Vasilveskiy in this series. He kept Columbus in Game 1 before it stormed back and Tuesday he stopped the Lightning as it tried to scramble back to a tie in the third period. No, Vasilevskiy wasn’t awful, but he wasn’t good, either. During the regular season, he seemed to make that one save to save the game or get the Lightning going. That didn’t happen in this series. Not even close. Grade: D

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