NHL Column: Lightning shock

Columbus Blue Jackets' Pierre-Luc Dubois, left, knocks the puck away from Tampa Bay Lightning's J.T. Miller during the third period of Game 4 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series Tuesday, April 16, 2019, in Columbus, Ohio. The Blue Jackets beat the Lightning 7-3. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Eighty two games of near perfection, all lost in a mere four matches. Throughout the 2018-2019 NHL season, there was never any doubt the Tampa Bay Lightning would win the Presidents Trophy. It was never doubted they would at least go on a deep playoff run. In fact, Tampa Bay was proclaimed by many to be the best NHL team of all time.

On Tuesday night, hockey fans, pundits and bracket makers were forced to reconsider, as the Columbus Blue Jackets pulled off one of the greatest upsets in the history of the game. They swept the Lightning in their first round matchup, outscoring Tampa Bay 19-8 in the series. It was the first time this entire season that Tampa Bay had lost more than two games in a row. The firepower of the Bolts made this outcome essentially unimaginable to the hockey world, initiating shock following a fourth straight resounding defeat.

In Game One, Tampa Bay came out as everyone expected them to, taking a quick 3-0 lead. Columbus, though, stormed back to win the game 4-3. They would never look back from there, getting on the Lightning early and often in each game. The tremendous forecheck of the Blue Jackets was too much for the Bolts to handle, and ultimately wore down the seemingly unbeatable giant. For a team as offensively skilled as Tampa Bay, an unrelenting offense may be the only form of defense effective in stopping them.

Losing the series to Columbus in any fashion would have been pretty crazy, but to get swept? Insanity. Tampa Bay tied the league’s record of 62 regular season wins to earn the Presidents Trophy. Yet just a week and a half later, the Lightning became the first Presidents Trophy winner ever to be swept in a first round playoff series. The startling nature of these facts easily makes the sweep the worst choke job of all time.

Many fans believe that winning the Presidents Trophy, which is given to the team with the best regular season record, is a curse. But statistics show that winners of this meaningless trophy have actually won the Stanley Cup more times than they have been ousted in the first round. Since the institution of the award following the 1985-1986 season, eight Presidents Trophy winners have gone on to win the Stanley Cup. Meanwhile, the Lightning became just the seventh trophy winner to make a first round playoff exit.

So to blame the glory of the regular season for their postseason failures is foolish. The teams who have won the Presidents trophy have won the Stanley Cup more than any other seed. The truth Tampa Bay fans must face is that their team utterly blew it, and in worse fashion than ever before seen in the NHL. Accolades and attention are worthless if you lose sight of the only satisfying prize: the Stanley Cup.

With the shock of such a monumental upset comes confusion, especially regarding management of the team. Where can they go from here? They built a team that tied for the most regular season wins ever. What more can they do to make the team better? Should they just leave everything alone and hope the result is better next year?

On the other hand, just a few weeks ago the Blue Jackets were not even sure they would make the playoffs. They won seven of their last eight games in route to securing the final Eastern Conference spot. Yet, somehow they beat the team that clinched their place in the playoffs a month earlier.

People questioned Columbus’ front office decisions to go all in this season, trading top end talent for Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. They also retained pending unrestricted free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, even though it is possible they ditch the franchise for a new team this summer.

Those risky decisions have proven to pay off as Columbus won its first playoff series in franchise history. Even if the Jackets do not advance past the second round of the playoffs, taking those risks will still have been worth it to provide the fanbase with success they have never seen before. Regardless of what happens the rest of the playoffs, the sweep of the Lightning will become a franchise defining moment.


Dylan Barrett is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus.  He can be reached via email at dylan.barrett@uconn.edu.