Cooper: Ousted Lightning victims of own success

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Here’s the spin the Lightning had after Tuesday night’s stunning 7-3 defeat in Game 4 of the first round: They were victims of their own success.

The Lightning had 128 points in the regular season, with a points percentage of .780, the second-highest rate for an 82-game season in NHL history, behind only the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings (.799). They tied that Red Wings team with 62 wins, the most recorded in the 100-plus-year history of NHL hockey. They clinched a playoff spot after just 68 games and were coasting well before reaching that mark. They weren’t just winning — they were crushing opponents. They had the league’s best power play and best penalty kill, and they were the highest-scoring team on average (3.89) since Detroit in that 1995-96 season. Of their 62 wins, 30 were by a margin of three or more goals, which was tied for the most since 1992-93. nike

“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,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said after Game 4. “That’s how it goes: You have a historic regular season, and we had a historic playoff.”7

Asked whether this Lightning core can still capture a Stanley Cup at full strength, Stamkos said, “Yeah, we believe in it. But it’s one thing to say it, and it’s another to execute. They executed a detailed game plan to slow us down, and we didn’t have a response to it. You have to give them some credit. Everyone’s going to talk about us losing the series, but they did a lot of good things. We just didn’t have an answer.”

This core was together when the Lightning fell in the 2016 conference finals, losing Games 6 and 7 to the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was together when they lost Games 6 and 7 (again) to the Washington Capitals last season. Against the Blue Jackets, the Lightning squandered a 3-0 lead in Game 1 and never recovered after the Jackets rallied to win.

“I don’t know,” Cooper said when asked whether there’s a fundamental flaw in how the team handles adversity. “It’s funny: We’re expected to go far this year, and we go nowhere. In 2015, no one expected us to go anywhere, and we went far, with the same core of players.

“It’s hard to win in this league. It’s tough not to be holding up the Stanley Cup at the end, but how many teams have gone through this? They knock at the door and knock at the door and then … you look at Washington, for example. They had two remarkable years and got bounced in the second round, and the year no one expected them to do anything, they won the Stanley Cup.”

From Oct. 6, 2018, through April 6, 2019, the Lightning were the favorites to win the Stanley Cup and one of the most dominant regular-season teams in the history of the league.