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 finish up the second round of this tournament with what should be another trouncing. The fun stuff should happen next round when the powerhouse teams start to square off against each other. For today, we have a bit of a mismatch. The last decent team of the 90s faces off against a Stanley Cup finalist.
1996-97 Lightning (32-40-10, 20th place)
It was really one bad month that derailed the Lightning in 1996-97. They ended October with a 5-4-1 record, not great, well within the playoff battle and only two points behind the Rangers for second place in the Atlantic Division (the Panthers had popped out to a pretty good lead by starting the season 8-0-4).
By the end of November, they were mired in last place in the division having won only twice in the month. While they were a veteran team, they weren’t a very deep team. Daren Puppa’s leg problems turned into a back problem and Brian Bradley’s knee was less than functional.
A tight budget limited the amount of moves GM Phil Esposito could make, not that he wasn’t trying. This quote is pulled directly from a St. Petersburg Times article that was posted on November 19th, 1996:
Oh, man. How much fun would Belfour had been in Tampa? Instead it was veteran Rick Tabaracci who was picked up in a trade from Calgary to fill in for Puppa. He helped stabilize the team and keep them from completely bottoming out (they would do that the next couple of seasons).
This team does have a small footnote in history as they were in the building for the Hartford Whalers final win before the franchise moved to North Carolina. Tabaracci was in net for the 2-1 one loss. Kevin Dineen scored the eventual game winner for the Whale while Dino Ciccarelli had the lone goal for the Bolts. If you’re feeling nostalgic, the whole game is available online.
2014-15 Lightning (50-24-18, 5th place)
The final bye team and presumed finalist finally enters the tournament. The most successful team of the Yzerman/Brisebois/Cooper Era, the 2014-15 team surprised just about everyone by making it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
With an injection of young talent playing in their first full season, the Lightning stormed out to a second place finish in the Atlantic Division (Montreal edged them out with the benefit of two Bettman Points). They did it with a rather balanced attack - Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson tied for the team lead with 72 points. Three other players topped 50 points while an impressive 11 players reached double digits in goals.
Ben Bishop pulled off an impressive 40 wins despite not finishing in the top 10 in any of the main goaltending stats. Nor did he pick up a Vezina vote. He did save his best for the playoffs as he won another 13 games and posted a 2.18 GAA and .921 SV%. Not bad for someone playing in their first playoffs.
In the first round the Lightning beat the Red Wings in a classic seven game series that was sealed with a shutout by Bishop in the deciding game. Tyler Johnson scored six goals in the series including two game-winners.
Tampa Bay’s second round opponent was the Montreal Canadiens. The Lightning avenged their first round sweep from the previous season by beating Les Habs in six games. This time it was 21-year-old Nikita Kucherov who potted six goals in the series. Steven Stamkos got into the scoring act with three goals and made at least one Montreal fan happy by tossing Brandon Prust’s elbow pad into the stands.
That set up an Eastern Conference Finals match-up against old friend Martin St. Louis and the New York Rangers. It was another seven game classic that featured the Lightning bouncing back from a 7-3 loss in Game Six on home ice. Bishop pulled off his Game Seven magic once again by making 22 saves in a 2-0 shutout. Alex Killorn scored what is still the biggest goal in his career early in the third period and Ondrej Palat tallied an insurance goal midway through the final frame.
The Lightning did not win the Stanley Cup. They did give the Blackhawks a couple of scares in the six-game series, but Chicago ended up emerging victorious. With a solid young foundation it looked like it would be just a matter of time until the Lightning would be the ones celebrating with the Cup.
Place your vote so that we can move on to the real fun in the next round.
Which is the better Tampa Bay Lightning team?
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Today’s News and Notes
Another day and not very much news. There was some speculating that following the weekly Board of Governors call on Monday the league might make an announcement in regards to the timing of the draft this summer. Sadly, there was no new news.
The draft was discussed per TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, but a formal decision most likely won’t come until later this week at the earliest. Momentum does seem to be building for an early June draft, which would require an announcement relatively soon in order to give teams a chance to prepare as well as make arrangements in regards coming up with alternative compensation in regards to conditional picks.
In theory reworking trades after the fact, but before the draft is an intriguing idea that could really spark some interesting deals around the league. One thing we know is that GMs around the league like to kill anything that remotely reeks of fun and chaos. So expect any altered deals to be extremely minor. Also, expect the Detroit Red Wings to draft first which means Lightning fans will be able to see Alexis Lafreniere a couple of times a season at least.
With the 2019-20 season still in limbo, most clubs have yet to announce their plans in regards to unused tickets from this season. The New Jersey Devils bucked that trend by offering their fans a few options. Season ticket holders have the option to roll their balance into next season (that will probably be the standard for most teams) but have also added some perks such as the choice between free parking, concession or team store credits, or upgrades to club level for a home game.
There is an altruistic bent to this as well. For each season ticket holder that applies their balance to next season’s ticket ticket plan the team will add an additional pair of tickets for a health employee to attend a game. This is in addition to 10,000 tickets the team will donate to front line workers. Nicely done, Devils.
More signings have happened around the league as the San Jose Sharks inked Russian goaltender Alexei Melnichuk from the KHL. The Toronto Maple Leafs also dipped into the KHL talent pool as they signed defenseman Mikko Lehtonen. The 26-year-old could be a back-up plan should the Leafs lose a couple of defenders in free agency.
Hang in there hockey fans, we’ll be celebrating goals before you know it. In the meantime, keep washing your hands.