Looking ahead for the Lightning: Window is open for one more year

Steven Stamkos & Co. skated easily past the Devils and Bruins, but couldn't get by the Capitals. There should be a sense of urgency to win next season, and here's how the Lightning get better. Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

As each NHL team is eliminated from playoff contention -- either mathematically or by losing in the postseason -- we'll take a look at why its quest for the Stanley Cup fell short in 2017-18, along with three keys to its offseason and a way-too-early prediction for what 2018-19 will hold.

What went wrong

On paper, the Tampa Bay Lightning looked superior to the Washington Capitals.

They had the better record (113 points to 105). They had a deeper, more veteran roster. They had rolled through two rounds of the playoffs, playing five games in each series. They had home-ice advantage, which actually meant something before the 2018 postseason started.

So what happened?

Simply put, the Capitals rose to the occasion: They played better in the seven-game series, had their star players perform when they needed them, and the Lightning were unable to exert their will on a Washington team that, in the end, was seemingly destined to play for the Stanley Cup for the first time in Alex Ovechkin's career.