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2004 Playoffs: Eastern Conference Retrospective

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Maybe the question I ought to ask every fan of the Tampa Bay Lightning is, where were you when the Lightning beat the Flyers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Playoffs?

The trek to the Stanley Cup Finals was surreal in the essence that I was told time and again by critics that the Lightning would never contend for the Stanley Cup. Of course that had been five years ago – it seemed eons ago but it still stood out in my mind. Add to the fact that this was a Tampa Bay professional sports team. The Buccaneers had been a laughing stock for 15 years before respectability arrived. The Devil Rays are yet to find respectability. Should the Lightning’s hot close to the season actually matter while the fact we are Tampa Bay take precedent?

The Eastern Conference first round was a traditionalists dream. The Senator’s were playing the Maple Leafs once again in what is becoming an annual right of rivalry. The Boston Bruins were once again paired against their old adversary – the Montreal Canadiens. The Battle of the New Jersey Turnpike continued with the Flyers waging war against the New Jersey Devils…

And there was this quaint little tea party between the New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Devoid of rivalry, fluffed by the media … The Islanders and Lightnign series was the last thing you would call a highlight of the first round.

Yet the Pass the Friggin’ Torch Tour was in full swing by the end of the series. The Lightning and isles played 4 games to a score of 3-0 and the rubber game – game five – fell Tampa Bay’s way in Overtime.

The Boston – Montreal series was a great spectacle – and one filled with bad blood after diving incidents by the Canadiens dampened the intensity of the series. Mike Ribiero and Alexi Kovalov both have earned the ire of NHL fans in general for their acting and actions. The Habs advanced while the Montreal Media set sights on vilifying Tampa Bay and heralding the great saints and imminent champions, Les Habs.

Well, that was until the Lightning spanked and swept them in four games. Is anyone ever going to forget Brad Richards play in game 3, with the OT goal that silenced Les Habitants and put the team on the verge of the Eastern Conference Finals?

Of course, Philadelphia and Toronto played another gruesome series, where Keith Primeau dominated through physical intimidation and physical play. The Toronto media thought this series was indeed the Eastern Conference Championship because… Well, the winner of this series has to face Tampa Bay in the finals. Ha. Tampa… Can you imagine them causing anyone grief?

Imagination is not what was needed. It was only to see and believe.

And that takes me back to the original question I posed – do you remember where you were when the clock ticked down against the Flyers in the then-biggest game played at home by a Tampa Bay team? Were you flooded with the same oh-my-god-this-can’t-be-real sensation that swept over this blogger? This franchise had now reach maturity and was within striking distance of Lord Stanley’s Cup.