The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs as the heavy favorite to win it all.
Now the NHL’s best team from the 2018-19 regular season is one loss away from exiting the postseason without a single win.
The Columbus Blue Jackets’ 3-1 victory in Game 3 of the teams’ first-round series on Sunday at Nationwide Arena in Columbus put the Lightning in an unthinkable 3-0 hole, and the team that finished with 128 points in the regular season is on the verge of disaster.
If the Lightning did get knocked out in the first round, albeit against a Blue Jackets team far better than a typical eighth seed, where would it rank against some of the biggest postseason collapses and disappointments of the salary cap era that started in 2005-06? Here’s a look at the other biggest collapses.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (2017)
Given the Blackhawks’ decline in the two years following the 2017 first-round defeat to the Nashville Predators, the result doesn’t look as shocking. But at the time, it was. The eighth-seeded Predators swept the Western Conference’s top regular-season team and one the decade’s top NHL powers, giving up just three goals in the process.
4. Red Wings (2006)
In the salary cap era, the Red Wings had one of the best regular-season teams prior to the Lightning, posting 124 points in 2005-06, the first season following the lockout. Still in the Western Conference at the time, the Red Wings ended up losing their first-round playoff series to the Edmonton Oilers in six games.
3. Boston Bruins (2010), San Jose Sharks (2014)
These two teams weren’t historically great or heavy favorites, but they both collapsed within a series after taking a 3-0 lead. The Bruins let the Flyers win the final four games of their 2010 Eastern Conference semifinal series, and to add insult to injury, they blew a 3-0 lead in Game 7, losing 4-3 at home.
The Sharks, after rolling past the Los Angeles Kings in two home games and one OT road win to open their 2014 first-round series, dropped the final four, including Game 7 at home. The Flyers lost in the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, while the Kings went on to win the Cup in 2014.
If the Lightning do rally from their hole, the Blue Jackets would have the misfortune of joining this group.
2. Washington Capitals (2010)
Before the Capitals finally claimed the Cup in 2018, they experienced their share of playoff disappointments and shortcomings. There are a few that could qualify for this list, but 2010 takes the cake. They won the Presidents’ Trophy with 121 points, but bowed out in the first round of the postseason, losing in seven games to the Montreal Canadiens. That disappointing ending also featured an in-series collapse, with the Capitals losing the final three games after going up 3-1.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (2019)
No Presidents’ Trophy winner has ever been swept in the first round of the playoffs. And this isn’t a typical Presidents’ Trophy winning-team, if there is such a thing. When the Lightning clinched the league’s best record, just two other teams had even clinched playoff spots. They tied the all-time record with 62 wins and flirted with the all-time record for most points by a team in the regular season, falling four points short of the 132 set by the Canadiens in 1976-77.
The series isn’t over yet, and if any team is capable of stringing together four straight wins, it’s this Tampa Bay squad. But the Blue Jackets have been the dominant team for all three games, outside the opening 20 minutes of Game 1. In order to avoid being historically remembered for all the wrong reasons, the Lightning need to add another historic achievement to their resume: climbing out of a 3-0 series hole.