CHICAGO – Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper looked around his dressing room at his exhausted Lightning while the Chicago Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup celebration pulsated through the walls.
Cooper saw anguish and disappointment on his players’ faces. He also saw the roots of a valuable experience.
The Lightning just needed one bounce, one break, one lucky deflection to keep pace with the Blackhawks, whose 2-0 victory on Monday ended the Stanley Cup Final. For too much of the closest Final ever played, they just couldn’t get it – but the young, hungry Lightning are determined to get back to try again.
“We’ve got a group of young men in there, but they’re kids at heart, and they’re crushed,” Cooper said. “It was really hard to look at them and see how crushed they truly are. … This is going to leave a scar.”
After a record-tying 26 games, the Lightning’s playoff run ended with a thud. After meeting every challenge in the first three rounds, they ended the series on the first three-game losing streak of their standout season, by a combined four goals.
The final shutout underlined the only real problem for Tampa Bay in a marvelous postseason: The NHL’s highest-scoring team in the regular season managed just 10 goals in the six-game Final.
“I’m proud of every effort we gave throughout this season,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “A lot of games we played. We played a tough series. Obviously we didn’t score enough goals the last three games to give us a good enough chance.”
The Lightning matched three other teams for the longest playoff run in NHL history. By the final periods, they were understandably exhausted – and yet they still pushed the champion Blackhawks to the limit.
The Lightning’s frustration was epitomized in captain Steven Stamkos, who couldn’t score a goal in the Final despite coming agonizingly close in Game 6.
While the Blackhawks celebrated behind their net, the Lightning slumped on the bench and stretched disconsolately against their sticks. After the postgame handshake line, the Lightning went reluctantly to the dressing room, with Stamkos hugging his teammates on the way out.
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