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S.W. Florida Daily News

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Three things that went wrong for the Tampa Bay Lightning

jeannot 4 24.jpeg
jeannot 4 24.jpeg

As a die-hard fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning, I was heartbroken to see their series against the Columbus Blue Jackets end in a stunning first-round sweep. In hindsight, there were three distinct areas where the Lightning were outplayed by their opponents. These included a lack of physicality and grit, an inability to convert on power-play opportunities, and struggles in the goaltending department. This trifecta of issues ultimately led to the Lightning’s early exit from the playoffs.

Introduction

The Tampa Bay Lightning had a promising season, entering the playoffs as the top seed in the Eastern Conference. However, they ultimately fell short of their goal of winning the Stanley Cup. There were several factors that contributed to their demise, but three that stand out in particular are poor goaltending, a lack of depth on defense, and an inability to capitalize on power plays. Let’s take a closer look at each one.

Poor Goaltending

One of the biggest issues for the Lightning in the playoffs was poor goaltending. Their starter, Andrei Vasilevskiy, had a stellar regular season, posting a 2.56 goals against average and a .917 save percentage. However, he struggled in the playoffs, allowing an average of 3.19 goals per game and posting a .856 save percentage. This was a major drop-off from his regular season performance, and it was a big reason why the Lightning were unable to advance past the first round.

One of the biggest problems with Vasilevskiy’s play was his inability to make key saves at critical moments. In Game 2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, Vasilevskiy allowed three goals in the first period, including two in the final minute. This put the Lightning in a deep hole early in the game and they were unable to recover, ultimately losing 5-1. In Game 4, Vasilevskiy allowed three goals on just six shots, putting the Lightning in a 3-0 hole before they even knew what had hit them. Though he rebounded somewhat in Games 5 and 6, it was too little, too late, and the Lightning were eliminated.

Lack of Depth on Defense

Another issue for the Lightning was a lack of depth on defense. While their top four defensemen – Victor Hedman, Ryan McDonagh, Mikhail Sergachev, and Erik Cernak – are all solid players, the drop-off after them was steep. When McDonagh went down with an injury in Game 1 against Columbus, the Lightning were forced to play players like Braydon Coburn and Jan Rutta more minutes than they probably should have. This led to sloppy play in their own end and costly turnovers that the Blue Jackets were able to capitalize on.

Furthermore, the Lightning lacked a true shutdown defenseman who could match up against the opposition’s top players. Hedman is a fantastic player and one of the best defensemen in the league, but he can’t do it all on his own. When the Blue Jackets were able to neutralize the Lightning’s top line of Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point, and Nikita Kucherov, there wasn’t much else the Lightning could do to generate offense. This lack of depth on defense was a major issue for the Lightning in the playoffs, and it’s something they’ll need to address in the offseason if they want to make another deep playoff run.

Inability to Capitalize on Power Plays

Finally, the Lightning struggled mightily on the power play in the playoffs. During the regular season, they had the best power play in the league, converting on 28.2% of their opportunities. However, in the playoffs, they were only able to convert on 16.7% of their power plays. This was a major problem, as the Lightning are a team that relies heavily on their power play to generate offense.

One of the biggest issues on the power play was a lack of movement and creativity. Too often, the Lightning would get the puck to Kucherov or Stamkos and simply let them try to make something happen. While those two are fantastic players, they can’t do it all on their own, especially against a team like Columbus that was able to shut them down. Additionally, the Lightning didn’t do a great job of screening the opposing goaltender or creating traffic in front of the net. This made it easier for the opposing goalie to see the puck and make saves.

Conclusion

In the end, the Lightning’s playoff hopes were dashed by poor goaltending, a lack of depth on defense, and an inability to capitalize on power plays. While they had a strong regular season and have a talented roster, these three issues proved to be too much to overcome. If the Lightning want to make another deep playoff run next year, they’ll need to address these issues and come back stronger than ever.

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