It was not that bad, because in 98 they had some problems emerging: the universe was too young, and inflation predicted Omega = 1. They couldn't imagine where the 70% missing matter should be as the numbers more and more firmly said that it's probably 30% and not very much more.It *was* surprising, even shocking. The reason this was surprising was that if you assuming that lambda is zero and the critical density is one, then you could argue that there was some basic symmetry in the universe. Guess not.
With Lambda, you can have both: the universe suddenly is about the right age, and at critical density. The data already started to point at Lambda even before the SN measurements confirmed it. For example read the first paragraph of this http://iopscience.iop.org/0004-637X/501/2/461/pdf/0004-637X_501_2_461.pdf".
So it was surprising, but this observation did not raise additional prolems (except that such a low vacuum energy is a rather nutty idea), instead it made life considerably easier.
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