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This is how the Lightning's season ends, not with a bang but a whimper

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Tuesday, April 16, 2019 – Page B12

TORONTO -- Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper has the vocal timbre of an inspirational speaker. Deep, and a bit breathy. It is the opposite of a hockey voice. It's a voice designed to sound reasonable.

After losing the first two games of the Lightning's playoff series, Cooper put his hand on the fan base's shoulders, locked eyes and said, "The regular season is different than the playoffs ..." Right.

"... and things just happen so fast ..." Of course.

"... all of a sudden, it's 0-0 and there's a lot of excitement going into Game 1 ..." Sure.

"... and then all of a sudden, you're down 0-2 at home and alarms are going off."

Sorry, say that again?

Cooper continued on like this for a while. Using a reasonable tone to describe calamity as a sort of instructive moral lesson, like forgetting your phone at home and having to survive a day without it. One supposes this is what passes for a rousing speech in Florida.

Then his team went and got its head handed to it again. Tampa is down 0-3 to Columbus. The one in Ohio.

Vegas had the Lightning as a 5-to-17 favourite to win this series. Those odds aren't prohibitive. They're pornographic.

That's a mortal lock.

Thus, Tampa isn't on course to lose. It is on course to hit a large rock and lose every man on board at sea.

Cooper's still at it. After Game 3: "There was a lot of positive energy in that room after the third period."

He doesn't sound reasonable any more.

Poor Cooper is starting to seem delusional.

That's often how coaches sound when they realize they've begun the process of getting themselves fired.

The runaway winner of the NHL's sixmonth-long phony war, the going theory is that Tampa being swept will be one of the greatest collapses ever.

That's wrong. That's completely wrong.

This is about to be one of the least impressive collapses in history. It might be the most tedious collapse of all time.

A great collapse should be spectacular.

Giving up three unanswered goals in the third period of a Game 7 is majestic (in a horrible way). People will remember where they were when they saw it happen.

A truly great collapse spirals outward from a single mental error or physical failure. The easier it is to identify the exact moment of disaster - "It gets through Buckner!" - the more magnificent the eventual disintegration. The better the player who fails, the greater the collapse.

There is often a sense of justice to it, or of the fates getting involved. In hindsight, you can see that a great collapse was meant to be.

A great collapse can also be a mighty spur to future performance. Turned around the right way, it's a mission statement. When things finally do turn out, people look back to that collapse and reconsider it. It isn't a terrible trauma any more. It was the first step to victory.

Tampa's surrender on the first day of the war doesn't meet any of these criteria.

No one person is to blame. No single moment pops.

No one is going to remember the way this Tampa team is going out. All this is is one team wilting once it realized the other team wasn't going to give up out of politeness. There is no way of spinning that as a Viking death.

A great collapse is fun, sort of. Fun in that you're all in this together, being shocked and miserable about how things have turned out.

Right now, Tampa isn't fun. It's the opposite of that.

It's dispiriting.

There should be some shameful joy in seeing the NHL's 21st-century fair-haired child - So deep! So exciting! So secondary market! - take its licks.

But the Lightning has shown so little apparent interest in its own humiliation, that it has robbed us of that. All of us are just grinding together toward a pretty inevitable end. The sooner we get there, the sooner we can split up and feel bad about something else.

A great collapse contains an instructive lesson. It's never moral - because almost nothing about professional sports is - but it's often taken that way. You did suchand-such in a slipshod way, or did Person X wrong or failed to properly appreciate the good times when they were there.

A great collapse echoes out into some sort of failure of character. You were punished for your sins.

Sadly for Tampa, it hasn't done anything wrong wrong. Nothing that jumps out at you. Its fault is doing in April what you're supposed to get out of your system in February - have a little run where all the buttons in the control room light up at once and the control panel begins to smoke.

There are no obvious fools in the bunch.

The team was built on a solid organizational premise, with solid players, doing solid things.

Even more annoyingly, they are a generally likeable bunch. Everyone had already agreed that if their team wasn't going to win the Stanley Cup, seeing Tampa do so was a mutually agreeable second option. Not perfect, but one you could live with.

Then they give us this damp pack of matches and call it a series.

This is how meaningless the NHL regular season has become. Not only is it a poor predictor of postseason success, but it's no longer good for a hair-pulling first-round implosion.

The Lightning can't even summon up a good tantrum as it overlooks the abyss.

"Listen, you guys can talk about the past all you want. You can't change it," Steven Stamkos told reporters on Monday.

Good suggestion. Stamkos can worry about not changing the past, and everyone else will take care of not talking about it.

Associated Graphic

Tampa's Cedric Paquette glides away from a crowd of Blue Jackets after Columbus scored a goal last Friday.


Huh? How did I get here?
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