The scoreboard at Nationwide Center read Columbus 7 and Tampa Bay 3 as the Blue Jackets had just swept the top team in the NHL. As the Lightning players slowly skated down the handshake line with a totally blank looks on their faces unable to understand what just happened.
This will be a long off season for the Lightning who now have to figure out how they were eliminated from the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs by a Columbus team that beat them in every aspect of the game.
Tampa Bay came into the first round of the NHL Playoffs the top seed with a regular season that saw them get 62 wins and take home the Presidents Trophy. But getting swept by Columbus the Lightning became the first team in the expansion era, which began in 1967-68, to go winless in the first round of the playoffs after leading the league in points during the regular season.
“Yeah, it sucks,” said Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov, who had 128 points in the regular season but was kept off the scoresheet until Tuesday night.
“Nothing was our way in the series,” he said. “I don’t know what to say.”
Meanwhile, Columbus won its first-ever playoff series on its fifth try and advances to play the winner of the Boston-Toronto series, which the Maple Leafs lead 2-1.
“It’s a great feeling to finally get one,” Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard said. “The job’s not done. We have to keep going.”
“They were the better team,” said Tampa Bay captain Steven Stamkos, who also didn’t score until Game 4. “They executed their game plan. I don’t know what to say. If we had the answers we would have found a way to win a game.”
“I’m so happy for them because I think they really can see if you’re a unit you can get some things accomplished,” said former Lightning coach and now Columbus bench boss John Tortorella, who led Tampa Bay to a Stanley Cup championship in 2004. “As we approach the second round, wherever it may be, it’s going to have to be even tighter. I think this is a really good foundation, (and) you can do some really crazy things if you stay together as a unit.”
Stamkos, Cedric Paquette and Brayden Point scored for Tampa Bay, which never led in this elimination game. The Lightning tied it at 3 on Point’s goal late in the second period , but Oliver Bjorkstrand scored 54 seconds later to put Columbus ahead for good.
“A bounce here, a bounce there maybe it’s a different game,” Lightning wing Ryan Callahan said. “But at the end of the day it wasn’t good enough top to bottom from our team. A very structured team over there, played to their systems, didn’t waver and outplayed us for four games.”
NOTES: Columbus D Markus Nutivaara missed his second game after being taking a shot in the head along the boards from Kucherov on Friday. The play resulted in a one-game suspension in Game 3 for Kucherov. … Lightning Ds Victor Hedman and Anton Stalman missed Game 4 with injuries.
Columbus moves on to play the Boston-Toronto winner.
Quotes in this story came from Associated Press.