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Lightning Round: a tough matchup between the 2002-03 and 2017-18 teams

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Who moves on to the semi finals? Only one of these teams did.

Boston Bruins v Tampa Bay Lightning - Game Five
TAMPA, FL - MAY 06: Anton Stralman #6 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates an empty net goal during Game Five of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Boston Bruins during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 6, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/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.

Today’s bracket isn’t the largest gap in years between that we’ve seen yet. However, it is the first time we’re really getting two teams as close to the top of their respective games as you can get. Hockey is hockey, but these were two very different eras, so I’m interested to see how these results go.

One team made the second round of the playoffs, a first in franchise history and laid the foundation for the team’s first Stanley Cup. The other made the semi-finals for the third time in four years. However, in this bracket, only one makes it to the semi-finals.

2017-18 Lightning (54-23-5, 3rd place)

After a tough “tanking” year where they missed the playoffs by one point completely without Steven Stamkos, the Lightning were a team not to be messed with they following year in 2017-18. Everything about the team at every position was better than the season before.

For the team on the whole, they jumped from the 17th team in the league to third, finishing as the best team in the Eastern Conference. They made it to the conference finals, losing to the eventual champions, the Washington Capitals.

Nikita Kucherov fully came into his own, scoring 100 points for the first time in his career. Brayden Point burst onto the scene as yet another gem from the middle rounds of the draft. Mikhail Sergachev scored 40 points as a teenage rookie after a steal of a trade with the incumbent division champion Montreal Canadiens. Andrei Vasilevskiy upped his save percentage nine points to .920 and finished second in the league in wins and third in the Vezina fight.

I think the fact that this team came right back into the Conference Finals after the season they had the year before shows that their era in the mid 2010’s wasn’t over and there’s a rejuvenation. I think, as this team awaits to avenge the 2019 playoffs, we should remember that they can pick up right where they left off.

The 2017-18 team was young (they still are today), they were dynamic (they still are today), and they were dominant (they still are today). In a league that was drastically pivoting to young speed and creative skill, the Lightning arguably did it better than anyone else. To this day, they are the blueprint for a lot of high-octane offensive teams. Namely, Carolina and Toronto.

Take out the crapshoot where the third and fourth seeds in the NHL play each other in the second round year after year. Take out the randomness and focus on the lessons learned, and this team will be the key stepping stone for this team to win a Stanley Cup in the modern era.

Sure, the team went to the finals a couple years prior, but it’s changed a lot in the five years since. There’s been a changing of the guard at forward with Point and Anthony Cirelli, defense with Sergachev and Erik Cernak, and in goal with Vasilevskiy. All of these changes have come as a result of the 2017 and 2018 teams. This team is much better now than they were then, especially in their philosophy to defense and shutting down opponents.

Seeing Matt Carle, Jason Garrison, Jonathan Drouin, and Valtteri Filppula replaced with Mikhail Sergachev, Brayden Point, Ryan McDonagh, and Anthony Cirelli was a major upgrade and one that makes this team’s chances at a Cup more sustainable.

Both of these teams in this round laid the foundation for a championship, just because these new Lightning haven’t done it yet doesn’t mean they won’t.

2002-03 Lightning (36-25-21, 12th Place)

There is a lot of love for this Lightning team, and understandably so. They gave this fanbase their first taste at a run, at success. That’s really important. As Alan and I have said in previous rounds covering this team, this team was fun.

This is what Alan said in their first round match-up against the 2007-08 Lightning.

“By any measure, the 02-03 season was a resounding success. Tortorella in his second season took the team farther than they had ever been. The young core showed they had the skill to compete at the top level and the front office succeeded in surrounding them with enough veteran talent to be a threat in the playoffs. The team entered the following season with plenty of optimism and justified it all by winning the franchise’s only championship.” - loserpoints, Raw Charge

I couldn’t believe how much that quote reminds me of this current team. I wasn’t around during the early 2000’s, but I can imagine the excitement and the torture of going through playoffs rounds was the same then as it is now. I find that oddly comforting.

The Vote

This vote might come down to demographics in the end. I personally find these teams oddly similar in a lot of ways. I guess the key difference is whether one team’s arc has been set in stone, while the other is TBD. Whether the unknown is a feature or a bug, that’s for the poll to decide below.

Poll

Which is the better Tampa Bay Lightning team?

This poll is closed

  • 76%
    2017-18
    (16 votes)
  • 23%
    2002-03
    (5 votes)
21 votes total Vote Now

Lightning Links

  • We got actual news yesterday when the Lightning signed 2018 draft pick Dmitry Semykin to an Entry-Level Contract. The 20-year-old left defenseman was in a good program with Sochi in Russia. He’s now moving to the AHL for further development with the Syracuse Crunch starting in 2020-21 (if the season ever arrives). Geo has a lot of analysis on Semykin in the link below.
  • Today is the day the AHL Board of Governors will vote on the future of the 2019-20 season. The call will be at 3pm EST and the results of it will likely be leaked sometime around 5pm EST. If not, the league plans to send official word of their decisions on Monday.
  • Also, apparently ”everything’s on the table” in the NHL. That doesn’t sound worrisome at all.