TheLightning have now played 102 games since the start of the 2014-15 season, with each victory carrying its own weight and strength on a personal level and in the Lightning locker room. The team has been built through the goals and miscues of the regular season, its clawed its way through the mire of a tough 1st round series with the Detroit Red Wings, and it redeemed itself and pushed away the Montreal Canadiens in six games during the Atlantic Division Finals. Those wins carried immense weight at the time.
And the 2-0 victory on Friday night over the New York Rangers carries by far the most weight among any victories of the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise since the 2004 season. Tonight's win - a tight contest up until the 3rd period, much like the dubious collapse the team had suffered in game 6 - gives this team a shot at the ultimate goal of the NHL season: the Stanley Cup.
Ben Bishop, who was deemed "shaky" (by way of a number of adjectives and adverbs by the writing populous) pitched his 2nd shutout of the Eastern Conference Finals, making the judgments by journalists seem off base to say the least. He stopped all of the Rangers 22 shots on goal (a narrative that will erupt is how few shots Bishop faced and how untested he was compared to Henrik Lundqvist - who faced only 4 more shots than Bishop in the game).
The little quirks of the game matter not, though I will note Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat scored, with assists coming from their line mates and from defensive elements (Matt Carle and Valtteri Filppula in the case of Killorn; Tyler Johnson and Ben Bishop in the case of Palat). What matters here now is that 11 years after the Lightning secured their first ever Stanley Cup Finals berth, the franchise returns to vie for the historic chalice.
Who the victor will be will become clear tomorrow night in Anaheim when the Ducks take on the Chicago Blackhawks at Honda Center. A Ducks win will place Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals in Anaheim on Wednesday, June 3rd. A Blackhawks victory places Game 1 at Amalie Arena (the Ducks had 109 points on the season, 1 more than the Lightning; the Blackhawks had only 102).
If the Lightning face the Blackhawks, the team will have played 4 Original Six franchises in the NHL (Detroit, Montrea, New York, and Chicago; the other two are the Maple Leafs and Bruins).