The Tampa Bay Lightning were historically good this year, obliterating the rest of the NHL through the winter and entering the playoff as the prohibitive favorite to hoist the Cup. In what will go down as the most epic choke job in the NHL for a very long time, that playoff run ended in the briefest amount of time possible.
So the Lightning are rightfully getting a lot of attention. They blew it at exactly the wrong moment. After so much success during he season and so much institutional swagger, they had their clocks cleaned by a team waiting in ambush for a lackadaisical opponent. Let’s give the Blue Jackets a little bit of credit, at least.
They’ve proved that they did indeed get hot at the right time, as Columbus has gone toe to toe with the Bruins in the second round so far as well, not relenting after their surprise victory against Tampa. It’s easy to talk about Artemi Panarin’s awakening, how Sergei Bobrovsky standing on his head, but I would like submit that this run started with the trade deadline.
Keeping in mind that the Blue Jackets only made it into the playoffs, it didn’t look like that would be the case as the trade deadline approached. Columbus foundered in February, playing below .500 hockey in the month, a difficult task, considering that you can often gain points in more than half of your games, even if you lose. the Blue Jackets seemed poised to sell, with Panarin and Bobrovsky standing out as targets for contending teams.
The Blue Jackets instead aggressively pursued all of the best Ottawa Senators, pulling in Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel and Julius Bergman. They made moves for Keith Kinkaid and Adam McQuaid as well when the deadline came to pass. They weren’t going to reassess and try to come back next season, Columbus was committed.
Then they narrowly slipped into the playoffs, getting the last spot in the east, only 2 points ahead of Montreal. They assembled this new team, they really went for the playoffs and they scrapped their way into a series with the Lightning. Tampa Bay just wasn’t ready for that intensity that has been built over two whole months.