It's playoff time in Tampa Bay for the first time since 2011. A lot of people have a lot of raised expectations for this team, which is the way it's supposed to be. Will they go deep? Second round? Final? Who knows? We believe. But however far this team goes, I wanted to take a moment to recognize how far they've already come.
Remember, Lightning fans. At this point last season we were looking at the draft lottery, sitting in 28th in the league. It wasn't that long ago. The Lightning had terrible goaltending, terrible defense, and a brand new coach. We fans were arguing over draft strategy. The Bolts were at their lowest point since Jeff Vinik hired Steve Yzerman. There was even talk that Yzerman's job was on the line.
And with realignment, the Lightning were going to be facing a tougher division with a rookie coach leading a squad that would rely heavily on youngsters, untested goalies, and a changing leadership core who'd need to make the team their own. Almost no one expected the Lightning to make a whole lot of noise this season. Rationally, how could you? Kids take time to acclimate to the NHL. Unknown goalies are unknown. All we really wanted was to be better than last season, to not be completely eliminated two weeks before the season ended.
A year later the Bolts are second in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference. They'll be playing their first playoff series in 3 years and they'll be doing so with home ice advantage.
Getting here was far from easy. Injuries, injuries, and more injuries. Callups. Drama in the farm system. Olympic drama. A disgruntled captain. It seemed like there wasn't a period of calm throughout the entire season. Still, they did it. The Tampacuse kids came together with the vets and fought for every point. It wasn't always pretty. At times it was downright ugly. Yet here we are.
So before it all gets started again, before we go back to the higher and higher expectations, let's just pause for a moment and look back at what this team has already accomplished. Let's understand that no matter what happens this has been a weird, painful, bizarre, and beautiful season.
I'm proud of you, boys.