TAMPA – This isn’t fair.
This isn’t fair at all.
Sports are not fair. And that goes for the Stanley Cup playoffs, which the other night came up and smacked the Lightning upside its head.
This isn’t fair. But somewhere on the stone wall of playoff hockey clichés, up high, near, “We need to play with desperation,” and “What’s the media meal tonight?” (sorry, that’s one of my clichés) are the words that come up every playoff season:
Your best players need to be your best players.
Bless Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli’s hearts, but third lines don’t bring a Cup home.
That is where we are tonight, this soon, as the Lightning tries to even this series and stave off homestanding disaster in Game 2 against Columbus.
You know who you are, boys.
You’re Nikita Kucherov. You’re Steven Stamkos. You’re Brayden Point and Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
And it’s time.
It’s already time.
It isn’t fair. Yeah, why them, why does it have to be on them?
Kucherov was the league MVP this season, smashing records as he went. Stamkos is a generational goal scorer. Point has been a revelation since he joined the Lightning. Hedman is the reigning Norris Trophy winner and the best defenseman in Lightning history. McDonagh, the consummate pro, has steadied the back line. Vasilevskiy is the best goalie in the NHL.
There. We said it.
Now go and do it.
Being the best players is your job.
That’s what the money is for.
That’s what the stardom is for.
And the pressure that comes with it.
I’m not even saying any of these guys are the reason the Lightning lost Game 1. No team should blow a 3-0 lead in a playoff game.
But they might need to get them out of this.
Kucherov and Stamkos had their chances in Game 1. Great chances.
As a wise man told me, chances, schmances. They need to finish. No points in Game 1. Going back over the last seven Lightning playoff losses, stretching back to last season, Kucherov, Point and Stamkos are a combined minus-35. They were a combined minus-4 in Game 1 against Columbus.
There is a reason why Kucherov was the best player in the NHL this season. He is that talented. He is that capable.
Stamkos finished the season strong.
But this is the only season that matters.
They know it.
They have to know it.
Now is the time.
No, it isn’t fair.
Who said the playoffs are fair?
The Lightning needs a win tonight or else.
Its best players have to be its best players.
Whenever you’re ready, boys.
Contact Martin Fennelly at email@example.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly