Young Lightning team 'crushed' by Stanley Cup loss
Jun 15, 2015; Chicago, IL, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning during game six of the 2015 Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center. The Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-USA TODAY Sports
CHICAGO — The stinging pain of defeat for the Tampa Bay Lightning went far beyond broken bones and torn muscles and ligaments.
It ripped directly at the heart of a young, improving team that felt it had a shot at knocking off the mighty Chicago Blackhawks, a quest that came to a close here on Monday night.
“We’ve got a group of young men, but they’re kids at heart and they’re crushed,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said following the 2-0 loss that closed out the Stanley Cup final 4-2 in the Blackhawks’ favour. “It was really hard to look at them and see how crushed they truly are.”
It was certainly a disconsolate group that went through the post-series handshake with the victorious Hawks, one well aware of the opportunity that was lost.
Ultimately, just managing two goals in the final three games of what was a tight, evenly matched series was their undoing, especially from a team that had led the NHL in scoring during the regular season.
Few among the Lightning players seemed more emotionally busted up than captain Steven Stamkos, a 43-goal scorer in the regular season who was held without a goal in the final eight games of the playoffs, despite some glorious opportunities.
Stamkos, who missed on a breakaway in Game 6 and also rang a shot off the post, just couldn’t find himself even the smallest dosage of good fortune in games where the team with one extra good bounce seemed to win.
“We had a chance to win the Cup,” Stamkos said. “We felt like it was an evenly matched series and it could have gone either way. You’re trying to accomplish your childhood dream and watching someone else win it instead of your group ... I can’t express how frustrating it is not to get the job done.
“I don’t know what could have happened if I get a few in this series, so it is really tough to think of any positives right now. Words cannot even describe how hard it is to get to this stage. You need a great team, you need luck, you need great goaltending, you need timely goals.”
You also need some good health, a tall order for a team that played 26 post-season games before finally being eliminated on Monday. Turns out that as suspected the Lightning was wounded by the end with injuries that might not have cost them the series, but certainly added to the challenge.
Goaltender Ben Bishop, who played solidly despite being clearly limited in his mobility, revealed afterward that he was performing despite suffering a tear in his right groin. Bishop did not play in Game 4 in an attempt to recuperate, yet only surrendered four goals in the last two games of the series.
“I barely got through Game 3,” Bishop said. “I didn’t want to go out there (in Game 4) and then be gone for the rest of the series. It was one of those things where you don’t want to put your team in a tough situation.”
Centre Tyler Johnson, the scoring sensation earlier in the playoffs, broke his right wrist early in the series, yet continued to play. Johnson, who was dominant in the first three series with clutch goals, had 23 points and finished in a tie for the playoff scoring lead with Chicago’s Patrick Kane.
“I think we stayed somewhat healthy,” Cooper said. “Then down the stretch, things started not going our way in that department. But we’ll be the last team ever to say that’s an excuse why we lost.The margin of teams is so close. It’s the healthy ones that seem to advance.”
Despite having home-ice advantage after an upset win over the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference final, the Lightning weren’t able to capitalize with a big Game 5 loss on Saturday night stacking the odds against them.
The hungry and healthier Hawks were determined to capture the Cup on home ice and weren’t about to be denied on Monday night.
“Maybe we’ll look back weeks from now and somewhat treasure what we accomplished,” Cooper said. “But we’ve got unfinished business to do. The pilot light’s been lit to get back here. I’ll be looking forward to September.”
BENCH BOSSES BUMMED
Jon Cooper has been a winning coach at six different levels of hockey, but the top prize in the sport will have to wait.
And as much as the Tampa Bay Lightning coach is busted up about losing the Stanley Cup final to the Blackhawks, he feels worse about the opportunity lost for his assistant coaches. Both Steve Thomas and Rick Bowness are career NHLers as coaches and players and just missed out on pro hockey’s treasured trophy.
“I’m crushed for Rick Bowness, I envisioned handing him the Stanley Cup,” Cooper said. “And I’m crushed for Steve Thomas, because I envisioned doing the same thing.
“In my coaching tenure, it’s the sixth championship I’ve been a part of and the first one to be on the losing end, so this is different for me personally.”
Hawks coach and three-time Cup winner Joel Quenneville had some encouragement for his counterpart: “I told him to be proud of your game. You’ve got a great young team, you’re going to have good runs going forward."