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NHL Playoffs: Blue Jackets Sweep Lightning In 4 Games


For hockey fans in Tampa, anything seemed possible this season. Well, anything except for this.


STEVEN STAMKOS: Man, I don't know. I don't know what to say. If we had the answers, we would have found a way to win a game, but - it just sucks.

GREENE: That's the voice of the Tampa Bay Lightning's Steven Stamkos reacting to his team's loss in Columbus, Ohio, last night. The Lightning had this incredible season - sixty-two wins - one of the best seasons of any team in the history of the National Hockey League. Best in the league, everyone had them as the favorite to win the Stanley Cup championship. And they were wiped out - swept in four games in the first round of the playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets.

On Twitter, the team wrote, quote, "we don't have any words, and we know you don't want to hear them. We understand your anger, your frustration, your sadness. Everything you're feeling - we get it."

Joining me from Columbus is Diana Nearhos. She covers the Lightning for the Tampa Bay Times. And, Diana, you probably never saw this coming.

DIANA NEARHOS: No. I actually had to change my flight today because the one thing I hadn't accounted for when booking it was being swept in four. Like, this was not on my radar.

GREENE: You probably had - I mean, were making no plans for the next month or two, thinking you'd be covering big-time hockey games.

NEARHOS: Yeah. Everyone kept asking me, oh, what are you doing this season then? I said, I don't know. It could be mid-June. You know, this had the feel of a team that was going to make that run, and then it's over.

GREENE: What happened?

NEARHOS: Well, I'm a little bit like Stamkos. I wish I could say this definitively, but everything went wrong. Everything that made this team such a fantastic team in the regular season wasn't there. The scoring, the chemistry, the drive, the, like, playing for pride - all of that was just missing. I think there was a major mental block. Columbus did have a great game plan. But the Lightning just underperformed.

GREENE: The tweet from the team that I mentioned almost sounds like they feel guilty, like they've done fans harm. I mean, is that exaggerating it? Or is that really what happened here, they've really let the city down?

NEARHOS: I think there's some of that. There's just this sense of shock. Nobody really thought this would happen. And, you know, maybe that's part of why it happened because nobody but Columbus thought it had a chance. But, yeah, there's definitely a sense the fans are angry. They're kind of confused, and the players feel pretty similarly.

GREENE: Any stories that you've heard from any fans back in Tampa? I know you're in Columbus - but in terms of what they're going through this morning.

NEARHOS: Just a lot of people reaching out to me on Twitter with just that shock and that anger and that disbelief that it's over. I think that's one of the hard things is that when it ends this abruptly. That's how things end in sports - you'll lose a game, and you're done. But it still feels this very abrupt - like, even though you thought it might be coming because they were down 3-0, there's just nothing like that final loss when you just kind of stop short and you're just like, oh, wow, this just happened.

GREENE: Is any of you relieved, like, you actually could plan a vacation or something now at the end of April or May?

NEARHOS: I mean, I'm looking forward to actually getting some sleep, but I thought I was just going to do that in June. Right now, it means I'm flying back to Tampa and trying to answer more of these questions you're asking me. And we'll do, you know, exit interviews and breakdown day and try to get more answered. But this means that my offseason looks a little different, where I thought I was going to spend a couple months kind of dissecting a strong franchise. Now I have to dissect it to figure out what went wrong rather than how they got to something so good.

GREENE: Diana Nearhos covers hockey for the Tampa Bay Times. The Tampa Bay Lightning were ousted from the playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets last night. Thanks a lot for your time, and safe travels.

NEARHOS: Thanks for having me. I appreciate it.

(SOUNDBITE OF JIM ALXNDR'S "FRUIT SALAD") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.