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Lightning Round: Early exits and contrasting legacies in the best Bolts team bracket

The first playoff team ever versus you know who.

Puppa stops Semenov Photo by Len Redkoles/Getty Images

Over the next few weeks, we’re running a bracket to determine the best Tampa Bay Lightning team in franchise history. Each day, we’ll put two of the 27 teams since the inaugural season in 1992-1993 up against each other to determine a winner until we’re left with who the community thinks is the best version of the Lightning.

We’re nearing the end of the second round of the bracket with only two matchups left to go before we start the quarterfinals. So far, the favorites continue to dominate as the 02-03 team beat the 05-06 team yesterday. Today, we get one of the most interesting pairs of the bracket so far as the 18-19 team faces the 95-96 squad. Both teams exited the playoffs in the first round but they took very different paths to get to that point. Before we get into it, let’s look check out where things currently stand.

2018-2019 Lightning (62-16-4, 9th place)

Frankly, I don’t have much left to say about last year’s team. They had one of the best regular seasons in modern NHL history. Their shot metrics weren’t quite as dominant as their goal metrics indicating that some of those results may have been attributable to hot shooting, hot goaltending, and a very strong performance in overtime and in shootouts.

But no matter where you think they fell in terms of regular season greatness, the first round sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets was a disappointing end to the season. Upsets happen constantly in hockey because the nature of the sport introduces a high degree of variance in outcomes. But even in the context of major upsets, the Lightning flaming out in the first round was historic.

The individual stats during the regular season were of course incredible. Nikita Kucherov won the Hart Trophy after posting a 128 point season. Andrei Vasilevskiy had his best year in the NHL so far and won the Vezina Trophy although his struggles were a big part of the problem in the playoffs. Victor Hedman was nominated for the Norris Trophy. Jon Cooper was nominated for the Jack Adams Award. From the players to the coaches to the front office, the Lightning seemed to get stellar performances from everywhere.

In terms of regular season performance, this group was probably the best in Lightning history. But hockey isn’t only a regular season sport. It also has a post season and the challenge for this bracket is figuring out how to weigh the collapse in the first round along side the historic regular season.

1995-1996 Lightning (38-32-12, 12th place)

The 95-96 Lightning exited the playoffs in the first round just like the 18-19 team. They lost in six games to the Philadelphia Flyers. But because of the circumstances surrounding the team, they are remembered much differently.

The 95-96 group was the first in franchise history to make the playoffs. They had struggled since their inception four seasons earlier and no one expected much from them headed into this season. But a stellar year from Daren Puppa in net along with Brian Bradley leading the forward group and Roman Hamrlik leading the defense gave Tampa its first taste of playoff hockey.

In the playoffs, John Cullen led the Lightning in scoring with five points despite missing a game. The big difference for the Lightning was in net as Puppa struggled to carry over his regular season success posting just an .837 save percentage. Jeff Reese was a bit better in relief but could still only get up to an .880.

While the 18-19 season is looked upon as a failure, the 95-96 team is the first great success in the franchise’s history. That season gave Lightning fans an idea of what was possible and stoked more interest in the team among locals.

It would be hard to find a fan from those times who doesn’t remember that team fondly and that juxtaposition with last year’s team makes this an interesting matchup.

The Vote

Now for the fun part. Time to decide which of these first round playoff exit teams deserves to advance to the quarter finals. I don’t think there’s much debate that the 18-19 team was better on the ice. But given the playoff collapse, some folks might not be interested in seeing that group stick around any longer so I wouldn’t be surprised if the 95-96 team at least makes this a closer vote.

Poll

Which is the better Tampa Bay Lightning team?

This poll is closed

  • 75%
    2018-2019
    (24 votes)
  • 25%
    1995-1996
    (8 votes)
32 votes total Vote Now

Today’s News and Notes

It’s starting to look like the NHL is going to move the draft up to early June in the hopes of still being able to finish the regular season after the draft and remove an event from what will be a very crowded schedule between the end of this season and the start of the next one. Elliotte Friedman reporter that the league will discuss the draft timing tomorrow.

On Monday, there is a conference call with the board of governors to discuss the possibility of an early June draft (likely June 5 and 6). While the hockey people hate the idea, the governors may be more inclined to accept commissioner Gary Bettman’s stance that this is a necessary move for business reasons. We’ll see where it goes.

And later in the day, JD Burke from Elite Prospects reported that the early June draft is likely to happen.

On Saturday, Joe Thornton posted a video showing that he’s shaved his hall of fame beard. Fear the Fin has all the details you need.

An eight-second Twitter video has revealed that for the second time, Joe Thornton has removed his iconic “lifestyle beard,” — a trend started in the 2015-16 season with teammate Brent Burns that has continued since.