I can take a hint from the universe.
Unfortunately the nudge didn’t come until the first period of Game 6.
OK, maybe that was actually the first period of Game 5 when Ben Bishop made a bonehead play leading to an empty net goal by Patrick Sharp. I already booked my flight before that game. It was too late.
As I waited in the terminal at the Hagerstown Regional Airport, I watched the first period and a half of Game 6. My flight was already delayed by two hours. There was no way I’d make it for any watch party and Amalie Arena already announced they weren’t letting anymore people through the doors.
Steven Stamkos dashed in on a breakaway and didn’t have enough moves to beat Corey Crawford. What was worse was that when he couldn’t coax himself to corral the puck, back up and roof it. He was too in-tight and just flubbed it against the pad.
It was done by then and the score was still 0-0.
Just before the plane lifted off the runway, I checked the score one last time. 0-1 Blackhawks in the second.
The WiFi-less flight left me wondering what is happening. As soon as we touched down in St. Petersburg, the alerts popped up. Blackhawks are Stanley Cup Champions. Duncan Keith is Conn Smythe Winner. Ben Bishop has a torn groin. Tyler Johnson has a broken wrist. And Tampa Bay had shattered dreams.
Health and luck are big parts of winning a championship and when you’re battling a two-time Cup champion, so is experience.
There’s not much I would change on the Lightning’s end. I would have isolated the team in a hotel at home, adjusted the power play with personnel and shuffled the lines more.
But most of all, I would have found a way to take players to the box. There wasn’t anything of significance between the whistles. A certain amount of gamesmanship was missing not having a fourth line player taking Toews are Kane to the box for roughing for two minutes.
There wasn’t enough nasty to warrant a fight. We weren’t even in the same galaxy of having a Lecavalier-Iginla type bout. I enjoyed the frenetic pace but there wasn’t enough boom with the pow.
A Stamkos-Toews fight would have absolutely turned the series even if Stamkos would have lost.
Next year, the Bolts will be filled with more skill and speed. Vlad Namestnikov is likely to be here full-time while Brenden Morrow coming back is iffy. Jon Drouin will see more ice time, too, but God help us if he gets gritty. We’re all just hoping for five more pounds of muscle.
The blueline is pretty gritty and no matter who steps in from within the organization, that won’t change.
Aside from all the black-and-blue business, the Lightning need to get Stamkos a winger. Maybe his defensive play improved without having an elite passer like Marty St. Louis by his side. Who knows. It didn’t look like Drouin and Stamkos clicked right away but they weren’t lined up much either in practice. He could be the answer.
Things were starting to click with Valteri Filpulla and Alex Killorn but more so for the other two players. It opened up more opportunities for Stamkos but he couldn’t bury them yet, it lumped two of the better centermen on one line.
Stamkos-Killorn-Callahan was Stammer’s most frequent line during the regular season while Callahan-Filpulla-Stamkos was the second most. Did wonders for Ryan Callahan tying a career high in points being in a Mike Knuble-like situation but you still need one more finesse player on that line. In most cases that was Fil, but he needs to help spread out the offense on the other lines.
Something’s gotta give and we have the offseason to dream what it’s going to be.
Then the regular to test it out. And the playoffs where things better be damned solidified and perfected.