Thursday, September 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Jones: Was Tuesday the day this Lightning season died?

TAMPA

It felt like the Lightning season ended Tuesday night.

It didn't. Not officially. The Lightning has 31 games left to play and is still, incredibly, only six points out of a playoff spot. If Tampa Bay went on, say, an 8-1-1 run, it very well could climb comfortably into the NHL playoff pack.

But games such as Tuesday's suggest it simply isn't capable of going on such a run. The 4-3 home loss to the Bruins was, in a nutshell, what this season has been about.

The defense — on Tuesday, and suddenly this season — looks old, creaky and slow. The offense lacks the killer instinct. Even Ben Bishop's goaltending, the backbone of this team's success for three seasons, seems a bit off-kilter.

If there's a way to lose a hockey game, the Lightning will find it.

What's even more shocking is its lack of concentration and consistency. Tampa Bay gave up a back-breaking goal with less than a second left in the second period. That turned out to be the difference in the game.

What's especially troubling is this all seems inexplicable. This is the same team, the same coach, the same everything that has been so good for three years. Even coach Jon Cooper is at a loss for words. Yet, even he is no longer surprised by the Lightning losing its way in big games.

In a stunning admission about his team's performance this season, Cooper said, "Fifty games, I'm not too mystified anymore. It's becoming a regular occurrence. How many times do I have to say 'consistency?' "

It's probably a bad idea to count the Lightning out just yet. Too much time is still left in the season, and the Lightning remains too talented to say this season is absolutely over.

But it sure feels like it after Tuesday night.

And after the past 51 games.

     
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