The Tampa Bay Lightning were sent crashing out of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Tuesday as the Columbus Blue Jackets completed a stunning first round clean sweep with a 7-3 victory in Ohio.
The Lightning entered the playoffs as proud owners of the Presidents’ Trophy, the honour handed to the NHL franchise which finishes the regular season with the best record.
But the Florida outfit became only the third Presidents’ Trophy winning team to suffer a clean sweep in the postseason as Columbus completed a 4-0 series win a the Nationwide Arena.
Pierre-Luc Dubois had a goal and two assists while Alexandre Texier scored twice for Columbus, who will play either the Boston Bruins or the Toronto Maple Leafs in the second round. The Lightning meanwhile were left reflecting on an abrupt end to a campaign which had promised so much after a regular-season which saw them accumulate a record-equalling 62 wins.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins were shut down once again by the New York Islanders, losing 3-1 to bow out of the playoffs at the first hurdle with a 4-0 sweep.
The Pens, back-to-back Stanley Cup champions in 2016 and 2017, were comprehensively beaten as the Islanders swept a best-of-seven series for the first time since 1983.
“We wanted to play a certain way,” Islanders coach Barry Trotz said.
“We talked about culture and identity. We tried to create that with what we felt we had.
“We didn’t know a lot about our goaltending. We didn’t know a lot about our defense.... Getting everybody to play for each other is a hard thing. “Understanding that you just do your job, do it well, do it for the guy next to you.”
Jordan Eberle was the catalyst for the Isles, scoring for the fourth straight game to tie it at 1-1 in the first period shortly after Jake Guentzel had put Pittsburgh ahead.
Brock Nelson put the Isles 2-1 ahead in the 1st period before Josh Bailey made it 3-1 in the second. Robin Lehner made 32 saves for New York.
Penguins star Sidney Crosby was unable to mask his disappointment after the loss.
“It’s obviously frustrating,” Crosby said. “I haven’t had a lot of time to digest it. Just disappointing. I think we felt good about our game coming into the playoffs and were playing some good hockey.
“And then got off to a rough start, but still felt like we had a chance here coming home.”
‘We couldn’t find
In the aftermath of a stunning ouster in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said his team lost the momentum built during the regular season and never recovered.
In just 10 days, the Lightning went from No 1 to done.
When the season ended on April 6, the Lightning had 62 wins, tied for most-ever in NHL history. On Tuesday night, the Lightning were out of the playoffs, outscored 19-8 by the Columbus Blue Jackets in a four-game sweep.
“When you have the amount of points we had, it’s a blessing and a curse, in a way. You don’t play any meaningful hockey for a long time. Then all of a sudden, you have to ramp it up. It’s not an excuse. It’s reality,” Cooper said after Game 4.
“That’s how it goes. You have a historic regular season, and we had a historic playoff.”
The Lightning had 128 points on the season, but when the horn sounded Tuesday to end Game 4 in a 7-3 defeat, none of that mattered. They became the first squad to lead the NHL in points and not win a game in a seven-game, opening-round series.
“If we had the answers, we would have found a way to win a game. It sucks,” Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos said.
The Lightning never found an answer for Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who had a .932 save percentage. Tampa’s goalie, Andrei Vasilevskiy had a series save percentage of .856 and a 3.82 goals-against average.
In the regular season, Vasilevskiy posted a .925 save percentage and a 2.40 GAA.
The Lightning also converted just one of six power-play chances into a goal, and the Blue Jackets scored on five of 10 opportunities.
Cooper offered no excuses.
“We couldn’t find our game. It’s that clear. For six days in April, we couldn’t find it,” Cooper said. “It’s unfortunate because it puts a blemish on what was one helluva regular season.”
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