Reg­u­lar-sea­son Light­ning re­mains miss­ing, and time is run­ning out.

Tampa Bay Times - - Front Page -

Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets’ Matt Duch­ene cel­e­brates a goal Sun­day against the Tampa Bay Light­ning dur­ing the sec­ond pe­riod of Game 3 of the NHL first-round play­off se­ries in Colum­bus, Ohio. With the 3-1 loss, the Light­ning, which for five months dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son never lost two in a row in reg­u­la­tion, has dropped three in a row to Colum­bus in the play­offs. and is one loss from elim­i­na­tion. The Light­ning faces long odds of ac­com­plish­ing some­thing that has only been done four times in NHL his­tory: come back from a 3-0 se­ries deficit.

COLUM­BUS — The wheels are off. This was sup­posed to be the great­est sea­son in Light­ning his­tory, one of the great­est the NHL has ever seen.

But with a 3-1 loss to the Blue Jack­ets on Sun­day in Game 3 of their first-round play­off se­ries, the Light­ning is in an 0-3 hole, one loss from one of the most dis­ap­point­ing, em­bar­rass­ing fin­ishes in sports his­tory.

Tampa Bay scored nearly at will in the reg­u­lar sea­son. It dom­i­nated spe­cial teams. It re­bounded quickly, los­ing con­sec­u­tive games only twice and never los­ing more than two straight. On the few oc­ca­sions it was nec­es­sary, goalies stole games.

None of that is hap­pen­ing in the play­offs so far.

The Light­ning has been outscored 12-5 over three games (12-2 if you take out the first pe­riod of Game 1). None of Steven Stamkos, Bray­den Point and Nikita Kucherov has a point in the se­ries. (Kucherov didn’t play Sun­day be­cause of a one-game sus­pen­sion for board­ing Blue Jack­ets de­fense­man Markus Nu­ti­vaara in Game 2.)

When it looked like Tampa Bay had righted the spe­cial-teams ship, Colum­bus scored on one of its two power plays in Game 3 while the Light­ning didn’t have any. An­drei Vasilevskiy has been good, but noth­ing like the game-steal­ing star goalie he is.

Now the Light­ning’s only hope is to do some­thing that has been done by only four teams in NHL his­tory: come back from a 3-0 se­ries deficit.

It’s a po­si­tion the Light­ning didn’t ex­pect to be in.

“We’re still play­ing Tues­day (in Game 4),” coach Jon Cooper said. “We’re still alive.”

When did the Light­ning lose its game? Tyler John­son’s an­swer was short and to the point: Game 1.

Tampa Bay hasn’t been able to get back to what made it suc­cess­ful in the reg­u­lar sea­son since giv­ing up a 3-0 lead in Game 1. (Not help­ing in Game 3 was the ab­sence of Vic­tor Hed­man, who was scratched a day af­ter miss­ing prac­tice, which Cooper had at­trib­uted to a com­bi­na­tion of body main­te­nance and be­ing banged up.)

To make mat­ters worst, Colum­bus seems to have all the an­swers. Even when Tampa Bay came on strong in Game 3’s third pe­riod, which it en­tered trail­ing 2-0, the Blue Jack­ets han­dled it.

The Light­ning poured 17 shots on net in the third, fi­nally pres­sur­ing goalie Sergei Bo­brovsky, but Colum­bus’ two-time Vez­ina Tro­phy win­ner turned away 16 of them.

When On­drej Palat scored less than two min­utes into the third to cut­ting the Light­ning’s deficit to one, it felt like it could be the start of some­thing.

“We pushed hard,” Steven Stamkos said. “If any­thing, maybe we found a recipe to break some of their struc­ture there.”

But the Blue Jack­ets went into lock­down mode.

The Light­ning couldn’t over­come two sec­ond-pe­riod Colum­bus goals by Matt Duch­ene and Oliver Bjork­strand.

Cam Atkin­son landed an empty-net­ter with a minute left.

The Light­ning isn’t look­ing big pic­ture. Ryan McDon­agh said that fo­cus­ing on the next game is the only way Tampa Bay can pro­ceed.

Said Cooper: “You’re do­ing your­self a dis­ser­vice if you look at the big pic­ture. But I do know there was a lot of pos­i­tive en­ergy af­ter the third pe­riod. As much down as the guys are about los­ing the game, and right­fully so, I think the guys liked how the sec­ond half started to go.”

The Light­ning will find out if a pe­riod of Light­ning-es­que play is enough to spur yet an­other his­toric mo­ment.

JAY LAPRETE As­so­ci­ated Press

JAY LAPRETE | As­so­ci­ated Press

An­drei Vasilevskiy watches the puck hit the back of the net for one of the Blue Jack­ets’ two third-pe­riod goals, which put them up 2-0. The Light­ning pulled within one in the third be­fore an empty-net­ter.



JAY LAPRETE | As­so­ci­ated Press

Blue Jack­ets goalie Sergei Bo­brovsky makes a save on the Light­ning’s Adam Erne (73) dur­ing Game 3’s third pe­riod, when Tampa Bay racked up 17 shots and got its only goal of the game.

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