TAMPA — Forget Vegas.
The Lightning have left the building.
No more season. No more watch parties. No more anything.
There is no way around it. Jon Cooper's team couldn't finish, not in Game 7 at home, not in the Eastern Conference final. It ended with a whimper, as the Lightning lost this series from ahead, from up three games to two. Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals exorcised demons and dominated to blank the Lightning 4-0 on their way to the Cup final against Vegas.
The Lightning led this series, then forgot how to score and opened the door. Washington kept coming, in Game 6 at Washington and right on through Game 7 on Wednesday night. The Capitals thoroughly outplayed the Lightning. Again.
How isn't this a bad ending for Tampa Bay and its fans? Break it down any way you want, but this was a limp performance by the Lightning, which seemed poise for a run at the Cup. Yes, the window is still open for the likes of Nikita Kucherov, Andre Vasilevskiy, Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, but this team could have climbed though it this time — it was right there — and didn't. How do we really know they'll be back? You can only be a year away for so long until you run out of years.
The Lightning lead the NHL in scoring during the season. After Ryan Callahan scored early in the second period of Game 5, the iron curtain came down. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov and company were shut out for roughly the final 160 minutes to end this series, more than two games. Where was Stamkos? Where was Kucherov? Where was anybody? No Lightning player could match Ovechkin's beast mode. Grade: F
It took Ovechkin, now going to his first Cup final, a little more than a minute to open the scoring by one-timing a slapper past Andrei Vasilevskiy. It began with a turnover on a Tom Wilson hit on Chris Kunitz. Even so, Vasilevskiy looked handcuffed on the play. He could have made the stop, even allowing for the fact that Ovechkin is one of the game's great goal scorers. Grade: F
Trite as it sounds, there really is nothing like a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The fever was everywhere leading into this game for a trip to the Cup final. You saw it in players' faces in the morning and fans' faces as they waited to go inside Amalie Arena. People were nervous, openly, a wonderful nervous. Grade: A
Giving it a go
Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn took one for the team when Caps winder Tom Wilson dared him to fight, right out of the penalty box, after they both were sent off in the aftermath of Coburn yanking the sweater off Evgeny Kuznetsov during a scrum. Coburn nearly hit Wilson square on the fist with his jaw, but he went, and it briefly fired up his team. Grade: A
Slowly, surely and not so surely
The Lightning joined the game after the Ovechkin goal, with true engagement and a pronounced territorial advantage, but it couldn't pounce on those rebounds off Holtby that were just lying there. The Lightning missed chance after chance. As an added annoyance, Holtby played wonderfully, with his second consecutive shutout to end this series. And Washington did a good job filling the scoring lanes. The Lightning did a bad job beating the Caps to them. Grade: D
Isn’t that always the way?
The Lightning had any number of chances and any number of crazy things happened. The Caps were clinging to the lead. Seemed like a matter of time. Then a puck bounced off Dan Girardi's midsection and onto the stick of Washington winger Andre Burakovsky, who beat Vasilevskiy for a 2-0 lead. Grade: D
Oy, Girardi. pic.twitter.com/lzI4kjTa9U— Shayna (@hayyyshayyy) May 24, 2018
Still can't believe Yanni Gourde didn't finish in an open net after Hedman drove down deep, behind and threw it front, past Holtby. A lesser offense: Alex Killorn failing to beat Holtby on a second-period breakaway chance off a long feed form Kucherov. Contrast that with Burakovsky, who scored his second goal to make it 3-0 off a long feed off a bad Lightning change. Oxygen flew from the arena. Grade: D
Contact Martin Fennelly at [email protected] Follow @mjfennelly