TAMPA, Fla. (FOX 13) - Minutes after the President's Cup-winning Lightning shook hands with the Columbus Blue Jackets at center ice, the Bolts had to face a reality nobody thought was possible: Being swept in round one of the playoffs.
"It sucks, yeah, there's not much to say," said Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov.
Nikita Kucherov wasn't the only one speechless.
"I don't know what to say," said team captain Steven Stamkos. "If we had the answers, we would have found a way to win a game."
"We were hoping for a deep playoff run," added Ryan Callahan, a Lightning forward. "To sit here now, it's hard to put into words how you feel."
Nobody knew what to say after the Lightning was ousted from the postseason Tuesday night, and that includes Bolts fans.
"We wondered, 'What in the world happened, to play so terrific all season?'" questioned longtime fan Doris Barnes.
"I kind of think we got out-coached in the playoffs," said Roy Reyes, a season-ticket holder. "That was not the same team we saw all year long. I was kind of surprised."
Fans weren't the only ones stunned by the Blue Jackets’ sweep of the Lightning. A record-tying 62 wins, a playoff spot clinched in March -- the Lightning had it all going for them, until they lost a 3-0 lead in Game One.
"When you have the amount of points we had, it's a blessing and a curse in a way because you don't play any real meaningful hockey for a long time, and then all of a sudden, you got to amp it up," said head coach Jon Cooper. "It's not an excuse, it's reality."
Trying to explain how they faltered in the first round, the Bolts pointed to a lack of defense and special teams.
"You know keys to us winning in the regular season, we didn't get it done in this series -- 5-on-5, special teams, you look back on four games and they won all those categories," explained defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
"For six days in April, Columbus played better than we did," added Cooper. "That was it."
There's no telling what changes will be made to this team in the offseason -- one that is beginning months sooner than the Bolts had hoped.
Thursday, the Lightning will hold their exit interviews.