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Five reasons Lightning lost Stanley Cup Final

by Corey Long

After a memorable run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Tampa Bay Lightning lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final.

The Blackhawks won Game 6 2-0 and the best-of-7 series 4-2. Each game was tightly contested, with neither team holding a lead of more than one goal until Patrick Kane scored at 14:46 of the third period in Game 6.

Here are five reasons the Lightning failed to win the Stanley Cup:

1. Offensive outage -- The Lightning led the NHL in goals during the regular season but were held to 10 in the Cup Final and two goals in the final three games. Coach Jon Cooper said numerous times throughout the playoffs that if the Lightning scored three goals they would likely win. That held true in the Cup Final, where they won the two games when they scored at least three goals, and that would have been enough to win each of the games they lost.

Defensively, the Lightning were more than adequate, giving up more than two goals once in the series, in Game 2, which the Lightning won 4-3. But Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford got hot at the right time and had a .936 save percentage in the Cup Final.

"Ultimately, we didn't score enough," Cooper said. "If you would have told me at the beginning of the playoffs that we were going to be the team that scored one goal in the last two games, that wasn't our MO. We were only giving up two goals a game. When this team only gives up two, we win a majority of those games. The pucks just didn't go in for us. It was a tough time for us to go cold, have the well go dry, especially since we carried this on the whole year."

2. Stamkos struggles -- Early in the first period of Game 6, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos had another scoring chance, with a clear shot from the right circle. His wrist shot went above Crawford's glove and rang off the post. Stamkos was stopped on a breakaway in the second period.

That was Stamkos' first Cup Final appearance in a nutshell. He had a goal on his stick late in the third period of Game 4 that would have sent the game to overtime and somehow the puck didn't go in the net. Stamkos did many things right: He played a strong series defensively and was physical when he didn't have the puck. But Stamkos is a goal-scorer and he didn't score any goals in the six-game series.

"I obviously feel like I didn't produce here," Stamkos said. "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 can't even describe how hard it is to get to this stage. You need a great team, you need to gel at the right time, you need luck, you need great goaltending, you need timely goals."

3, Injuries -- Every player involved in the Cup Final dealt with some sort of injury. Some were bumps and bruises and others were much more serious. Lightning forward Tyler Johnson fractured his wrist during the series and stopped taking faceoffs after Game 1. He also stopped taking shots and failed to find other ways to contribute offensively. Lightning goalie Ben Bishop sustained a groin tear during Game 2 and was unable to play in Game 4. Bishop returned and proved his toughness to anyone who doubted him, but the 26 playoff games the Lightning played clearly took a toll on them.

"[Bishop] has proven time and time again for us, the two years we've been together," Cooper said. "Last year we don't make the playoffs without Ben. He really put the team on his back. This year, we had a little better team that came together. We had a little bit more depth. But we don't get to this part in the playoffs without Ben.

"You sit here and think. He played, I'm probably going to get this wrong, but probably 27 games in a row before an injury took him out. At the pinnacle of the sport, going through the end of the regular season, the playoffs, for him to continue to rise in this occasion for somebody that never had been in the situation before, you can't say enough about what he did for us."

4. Missed opportunities -- The Lightning were 1-for-13 on the power play during the Cup Final and that was just the top of the list of "what ifs." Tampa Bay had a 1-0 lead in Game 1 and gave up two goals in a span of 2:02 late in the third period to lose 2-1. Bishop and defenseman Victor Hedman collided with each other in Game 5 to give Patrick Sharp an easy goal in a game the Lightning would lose 2-1. Cedric Paquette and Anton Stralman had prime scoring opportunities in the slot in Game 6 and neither could get off a shot.

In a series that went more than 350 minutes before a team had a two-goal lead, the failed chances were magnified. After a 2-1 loss in Game 1 Lightning forward Brian Boyle said he didn't want the players to wake up the next morning with any regrets about what they could have done a little bit better. There may be several players with sleepless nights thinking about missed opportunities.

"You think about how long the season has been, how close we were," Bishop said. "It feels like every game of the series could have gone one way or another. It's just a terrible feeling. I don't know to describe it. Listening to [the celebration], it just makes you sick."

5. Questionable decisions -- In Game 5, the Lightning trailed the Blackhawks 2-1 with less than five minutes left and coach Jon Cooper was using his third and fourth lines. It left many observers scratching their heads why J.T. Brown and Brenden Morrow were on the ice instead of primary scorers Stamkos, Johnson and Alex Killorn.

Cooper made a lot of good moves; he had plenty of success using 11 forwards and seven defensemen during the playoffs. But at times he appeared to rely a little too much on his depth;  the Blackhawks went much of the playoffs playing four defensemen as coach Joel Quenneville tightened his rotation. One of most questionable moves Cooper made might have been benching Nikita Nesterov in Game 5 and 6 -- he had a strong postseason (one goal, five assists, plus-6 rating) and was a major addition to the power play -- while continuing to play Matt Carle (three assists, minus-10 rating).

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