Perhaps they were too young.
Perhaps they were too inexperienced.
Perhaps their scoring went dry at the wrong time.
Perhaps they were too hurt or too inexperienced or too inconsistent. Perhaps they were only the second best team in hockey.
For whatever reason, a season died Monday night. For the first time in 270 days, there is no tomorrow. For the first time in 108 games, they have run out of time.
It all ended for the Tampa Bay Lightning Monday night, all the sizzle and all the style, blunted by a savvy Chicago Blackhawks team that seemed to win all of the big moments in capturing their third Stanley Cup in six seasons with a 2-0 victory in Game Six.
In the end, the Bolts just lacked enough scorers to make up for the ones who went missing. Yes, Tampa Bay led the league in scoring during the regular season. But those fireworks were damp when the post-season came. Tampa Bay scored only two goals in its final three games, hardly enough to win.
Why did the scorers abandon them? That will be the question of the off-season. Steven Stamkos started the post-season without scoring in the first eight, and he finished in not scoring in the last eight. Tyler Johnson lit it up during the post-season, but he only scored once in the last 10 games. Nikita Kucherov scored in only one of his final seven. Ryan Callahan scored twice in 25 games.
Oh, there were factors. Goaltender Ben Bishop missed a game with a torn groin. The home ice advantage disappeared; the Bolts lost eight games in the regular season at home, but seven during the playoffs.
”It hits you when you come in this room and you look around and you see the guys, how hard everyone’s worked,” Stamkos said. ”You just get a rush of emotions. You realize how tough it is to get (here). You never know if you’re going to get this chance again. It’s a pretty lonely feeling. You get that sick feeling in your stomach, knowing how hard you worked to get here. And to see it all kind of go away, it’s tough.
“It feels like it’s for nothing. I know it’s not, but that’s what it feels like.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he “felt sick” for Stamkos, who hit a post and missed on a breakaway.
”You’ve got to feel for him because I know he’s going to put a bunch of, probably, weight on his shoulders of why we didn’t score,” Cooper said. ”But Stammer did an unreal job for us. Nobody scored. It wasn’t just Stammer. We’ve gone through this whole year, depth has carried us. Stammer clearly has been a big part of that. We needed more than Steven to score. The well ran dry.”
The Blackhawks scored twice, which in this series, felt like plenty. Duncan Keith poked in a rebound, passing Cedric Paquette on his way to the net. Then ex-Lightning star Brad Richards had a no-look pass to Patrick Kane.
“We have a group of young men who are kids at heart,” Cooper said. “They’re crushed. It was hard to look at them and see how crushed they were. Maybe we’ll look back weeks from now and somewhat treasure what we’ve done. But right now, it feels like unfinished business.”
“This is a fun team,” Bishop said. “But it’s no fun now.”