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Fennelly: Lightning didn't truly join this season until it was over

Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77) calls for a penalty as Vladislav Namestnikov (90) is tripped up by the Coyotes during the third period. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman (77) calls for a penalty as Vladislav Namestnikov (90) is tripped up by the Coyotes during the third period. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published Mar. 22, 2017

Coyote ugly.

That's it, boys.

Say good night and draw the sheet over your heads.

Ten games remain in this dreary Lightning season, but it didn't feel like it Tuesday night.

It felt like the end.

It's all over but the tee times and who to protect in the expansion draft.

With a telling thud, the Lightning lost to Arizona, the second worst team in the NHL, which was playing the back end of a back-to-back, a third game in four nights (after losing its first two) and starting its back-up goaltender, who has a losing record.

Got all that?

Coyotes, 5-3.

Mind numbing.

Inexcusable.

Over and out.

Jon Cooper's team apparently wants no part of playing its way into the playoffs.

Even Steven Stamkos and the knee he rides in on can't save this.

The Lightning blew a 3-2 lead in the third period, a lead handed to them on an Arizona own goal off a Coyotes player's shoulder.

The Lightning handed back the gift.

Three Arizona goals, the last one reeking of the proper symbolism for this steaming mess of a hockey season.

The Lightning had two power plays down the stretch and even pulled goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy for a 6-on-4 man advantage.

So here's what happened, sports fans: Arizona's Connor Murphy lofted a dump-in into the Lightning end. Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman tried to spear it with his gloved hand … and the puck bonked off Hedman's mitt and into his empty net for a 5-3 Arizona lead.

Kiermaier would have had it.

Bingo. Symbolism. A talented team, a season within reach, but never truly.

In and out of its hands.

Hedman said, "We can't lay down. We've got to refocus."

Guess what?

Tuesday, the Lightning laid down.

Make it three losses in a row when the Bolts couldn't afford to lose any games at all. Three home games at that. Five goals allowed in each of them, the Lightning defense nonexistent in each of them.

For its sins, the Lightning travel to Boston, where it is 6-30-6 in its history. In fact, it has two games in Boston over their last 10.

Oh, and they just lost to Arizona.

Tuesday night was the topper.

Arizona took this game over.

Arizona!

It was pathetic.

And symbolic.

Cooper pointed to the stat sheet.

"For me, the most telling stat was that they had 25 blocked shots, we had six," he said. "That just showed you the mentality of what went on tonight."

When it needed to go all in, the Lightning didn't.

That's the story of this season, really, as much as all the injuries.

This team didn't truly join this season until it was too late. Everyone was back. Complacency crept in.

Cooper couldn't stop it. Then came the realization, too late, that it was slipping away.

Mathematically, the Lightning didn't lose ground in the wild card race Tuesday night.

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It might as well have.

It just lost to Arizona.

The Lightning could have been a contender. It could have raised a banner.

Pull a sheet over this season.

It's cold to the touch.

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