TAMPA — Washington is on to Vegas. The Lightning is not. So we asked the Times' Lightning coverage team for the single biggest reason Tampa Bay isn't headed to the Stanley Cup final. Here's their answers:
Roger Mooney, staff writer: The Capitals were the better team. They out-played the Lightning for most of the series, won three games in Tampa. Got some breaks in Game 7 when the Lightning couldn't finish off some Grade A chances, and finished off the chances they had. I think we're going to look back in two weeks and say it was Washington's year.
Greg Auman, staff writer: All season long, this was a Lightning team that could always score. Waves and waves of players with scoring ability, and that stopped a few games too soon. One shutout in the first 97 games, then two in a row to end the season the hard way.
Frank Pastor, digital editor: The Lightning sealed its fate when it dropped the first two games of the series. It spent itself battling to get back, even taking a 3-2 lead after five games. But a physical Game 6 exhausted its reserves, and by Game 7, when it needed it most, Tampa Bay didn't appear to have much fight left.
Martin Fennelly, columnist: Your stars have to show up. Alex Ovechkin did. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov did not, and at once. And the Lightning never could bring itself to believe the Caps could win this.
Tom Jones, columnist: The easy answer is the Lightning's offense ran dry (no goals in the final two games). But, really, we might be making it too complicated. Perhaps the Lightning isn't headed to the Stanley Cup final because it ran into a really good team that was only one game better. The Lightning went to Game 7 of the conference final. A post here, a bounce there and Tampa Bay is hosting Game 1 of the final Monday night. Look, the other team's players get paid, too. If this had been a best-of-five series, the Bolts would have won. It was a best-of-seven and the Caps won. It really could have gone either way.