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Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup; the Lightning did not lose it

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On Thursday, Chicago will have a parade to honor their Stanley Cup champions. Friday would have been a good day to do that in Tampa, but the Blackhawks ruined that plan.

Both teams have already cleaned out their home lockers or are in the process of doing so. The Blackhawks, of course, are enjoying their task a bit more than Lightning players.

What happened over the past two weeks and what happens over the next few months? Gary Shelton addressed the latter question in detail on these pages not long after the Lightning returned home.

It is appropriate to begin with what did not happen. First of all, the Lightning did not lose the Stanley Cup; the Blackhawks won it.

Some might argue that is a distinction without a difference, but there is a big difference. A team that loses the most important series of games in their season and in their lives does plenty of things to make that happen.

There are plenty of examples of teams taking stupid penalties leading to crucial power play goals or continually giving away the puck in their zone. The Lightning did not do that.

We have seen goaltenders allowing weak goals that cost their team an important game or even a series. The Lightning goaltenders did not do that.

Many times young teams come into a season-defining series like the Stanley Cup Finals and give too much respect to their opponent. The Lightning did not do that.

All of this adds up to a Lightning team that played like the Eastern Conference Champions they were. At the same time, the object of the game is to score goals and the Lightning did not do enough of that.

Chicago, with all of that experience and talent, made the plays and scored the goals that elevated them from Western Conference Champions to Stanley Cup Champions.

The opportunities for excuses were plenty. The Lightning will let disappointed fans take that route.

Ben Bishop’s injury certainly cannot be used because he played very well while fighting through his physical problems. Andrei Vasilevskiy did an outstanding job in relief when needed.

It is difficult to hear the criticism hurled toward Steven Stamkos. Some of the comments pointedly say his performance cost the Lightning the Stanley Cup.

There might be some merit to that if anyone could show where he wasn’t giving his best effort, not creating scoring chances, or not helping set up his teammates. Yes, his role is to score goals, but Chicago did a few things to keep him and the Lightning off the scoreboard.

Who remembers Chicago goalie Corey Crawford stoning Stamkos in front of the net or Brent Seabrook barely deflecting a sure Stamkos goal just wide during frantic final moments of Game 4?

Just 8 minutes into Game 6, Stamkos beat Crawford with a shot that hit the lower portion of the crossbar and stayed out. One minute into the second period, Crawford made a sprawling stop on a Stamkos breakaway.

It is easy to forget others who had similar scoring chances only to be denied or missed an open net. For example, Anton Stralman was in perfect position for a tap-in goal in Game 6, but the puck somehow eluded his stick.

No one can blame Stamkos, Stralman or any individual for the team coming up short. The Blackhawks were slight favorites in the series mainly because of their championship experience. In the end, that was the difference.

Chicago’s Duncan Keith followed his shot and put home the rebound to put the Blackhawks ahead in Game 6. Former Lightning star Brad Richards put a no-look pass on the stick of Patrick Kane for the game and series clincher. The Lightning will make those kinds of plays when they get their chance again.

For those wanting to beat up on Stamkos, you may need to stand in line because he is doing it to himself. He took this hard.

During the post-game handshake he showed the appropriate sportsmanship, but it was easy to see he was deeply troubled by the loss. His comments to the media summed up his feelings.

“It’s so frustrating, especially for me not being able to get the job done these last couple games,” said Stamkos. “That’s something you’re going to remember for a long time.”

Hopefully it won’t be so long. This is a quality bunch of players, organization and coaching staff.  If management can manage the salary cap well, a Stanley Cup is going to happen.

Not to put too much pressure on him, but Coach Jon Cooper has won championships at every level he has coached. He will one day enjoy what Chicago Coach Joel Quenneville is celebrating for the third time.

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Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at Bob@ramos-sparks.com.

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