Let’s just go ahead and get the obvious out of the way right now: That was a very disappointing ending to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 2017-18 season. A year that began with so much promise back in October ended with a huge whimper in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.
For the third time in four seasons and the fourth time since 2011, the Lightning made it to the aforementioned ECF. On top of that, this was the second time in three years the Lightning held a 3-2 series lead in the conference final. Unfortunately for them, it also marked the second time in three years they lost that lead before falling in seven games. What made this season’s Game 7 loss to Washington Capitals so much more disappointing than 2016’s Game 7 ECF loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins was how the Lightning ended the series.
In 2016, Tampa Bay dealt with the loss of then-starting goaltender Ben Bishop in Game 1, forcing a still-relatively inexperienced Andrei Vasilevskiy into action for the remainder of that series. He was sensational the rest of the way, as the Bolts narrowly lost 2-1 to Pittsburgh in Game 7. However, 2018’s defeat at the hands of the Capitals told a different story.
The Lightning’s last goal of the entire season occurred 33 seconds into the second period of Game 5, which bounced off the glove of Ryan Callahan. Tampa Bay failed to hit the back of the net for the remaining 159:27 of the series. That’s nearly eight full periods of hockey without scoring. Kind of tough to advance to the Stanley Cup Final when the offense dries up like that. As a result, Lightning fans have been a pretty ornery bunch over the last couple of days since dropping Game 7 to the Caps by a 4-0 score on home ice.
Here’s the thing: it’s okay to feel disappointed, hurt, and bewildered by this team’s play over the final two-and-a-half games of the Eastern Conference Final.
Let’s be honest with ourselves. The expectations surrounding the Tampa Bay Lightning have continued to grow over the last five years, and understandably so. Bolts general manager Steve Yzerman has built this franchise into a nearly-perennial playoff team and Stanley Cup contender during his tenure. Four Eastern Conference Final appearances and one appearance in the Stanley Cup Final have set the bar high. This is no longer an up-and-coming, youthful bunch that can say, “We had a great season, now let’s build on it.” They’re a team full of veterans with some youth that have been through multiple long playoff runs. They put together some great regular seasons and set a ton of franchise records this year.
However, they have now reached a point where the expectation is to win now. Not tomorrow. Not in five years. The time is now. Making long playoff runs and just getting to the conference final or the Stanley Cup Final isn’t good enough anymore. And that’s ok, because your goal should always be a championship, especially when you’ve been building up to that point over the last several years. So seeing it all come to a disappointing end on home ice definitely hurts.
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