Tonight the Lightning will play the ninth Game 7 in franchise history. They have an overall record of 5-3 in the ultimate playoff games with all three of those losses coming in the Conference Finals. Granted, they do also have two wins in Conference Finals so a win tonight would bring their record to a nice even .500.
If there is any trend among their games, they will be low scoring. Only one saw the two teams combine for more than three goals, and unfortunately for the Lightning the other team scored all four goals in that one. The Bolts are on a bit of a losing streak, having lost two Game 7s in a row (both in the Conference Finals). They were due for a little regression to the mean after starting off with an impressive 5-1 run in deciding games.
All Game 7s are fun in a stressful kind of way if you’re favorite teams are involved. Every shift, every shot, every save is imbued with extra importance. There are no routine plays and the outcome produces one of two emotions - either unfettered elation or absolute despair. Rarely do you leave a Game 7 thinking, “hmmm...that was an average experience”.
Here are my personal ranking when it comes to the Bolts history. The list is completely bias an off the cuff. Very little thought was put into this.
8. 2018 Eastern Conference Finals vs Washington Capitals
This was the most recent Game Seven in franchise history, so it’s understandable that fans may be a little nervous. What an absolute disaster of a game. The Lightning were up 3-2 in the series after a 3-2 win in Game Five. They then forgot how to score goals, getting shut out in Games Six and Seven. This team was supposed to have learned their lesson after the Game Seven two years previous against the Penguins.
7. 2011 Eastern Conference Finals vs Boston Bruins
Of all of the Game 7s on this list this was probably the best overall game of the bunch. It was a back and forth affair that featured 62 combined shots and two extremely outstanding efforts from the goaltenders. Tim Thomas stopped 24 shots while Dwayne Roloson stopped 37. Nathan Horton was the lone player to find the back of the net the entire game despite several Grade A chances from both sides. You will also remember a young Steven Stamkos coming back after taking a shot right off the nose.
Why is it so low? Because it was an absolute heartbreaker for a team that was on an unlikely role. Is it my personal worse loss as a Lightning fan? Yes, yes it is.
6. 2011 Conference Quarter Finals vs Pittsburgh Penguins
All it took was a second period goal from Sean Bergenheim and 36 saves from Dwayne Roloson for the Lightning to pull off the first round upset under rookie coach Guy Boucher. The victory capped off a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit. The fact that the Penguins were without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin due to injuries kind of dulls the shine of this one.
5. 2015 First Round vs Detroit Red Wings
Ben Bishop posted a 31-save shutout to spark the Lightning’s surprise run to the Finals. Braydon Coburn made Steve Yzerman’s trade deadline gamble pay off as he floated a puck past Petr Mrazek just four minutes into the third period. Anton Stralman added an empty netter to secure the win. It was a turning point between the two franchises as the Red Wings would sink into a rebuild and the Lightning would start their current run of success.
4. 2016 Eastern Conference Finals vs Pittsburgh Penguins
The return of Steven Stamkos game. After missing all of the postseason as he recovered from a blood clot, The Captain returned and almost, almost helped pull off the upset. His slapshot off of the rush skittered just wide late in the second period. Jonathan Drouin scored the lone goal for the Bolts as they were undone by rookies Bryan Rust (2 goals) and Matt Murray (16 saves). Another rookie, Andrei Vasilevskiy, did everything he could to keep the Lightning in the game with 37 saves.
Why did this make the top four? Because one of my best friends is a Penguins fan and it was nice to see him win one more Stanley Cup before Pittsburgh turned into perpetual underachievers.
3. 2015 Eastern Conference Finals vs New York Rangers
Ben Bishop was the star in this one as he stopped all 22 shots he faced. It was his second 2-0 win (sandwiched around an ugly 7-3 loss on home ice). Alex Killorn and Ondrej Palat provided the third period offense that sent the Lightning back to the Stanley Cup Final. It was a little sweeter as the knocked out Marty St. Louis who had spurned them the previous season.
2. 2004 Eastern Conference Finals vs Philadelphia Flyers
This was lot closer than it should have been. While nothing can top a Stanley Cup Game 7, this one came close. The series against the Flyers was an absolute slugfest with the two teams beating the stuffing out of each other the entire way. The Lightning outbullied the Broad Street Bullies by throwing 28 hits in this game and goals by Ruslan Fedotenko and Freddie Modin were enough to send the Lightning to their first Stanley Cup Final.
On a personal note, I didn’t actually see this one live as I was on a date with my future wife. We did pop into The Hub (original location) in time to see the final few minutes and celebrated with strangers in one of the great Tampa bars.
1. 2004 Stanley Cup Finals vs Calgary Flames
A Stanley Cup Game 7? There is nothing better than that. Especially one that ends in a victory. Once again it was Ruslan Fedotenko playing the hero as he scored twice while Nikolai Khabibulin stopped 16 of 17 shots, including one in the dying seconds gave the Lightning their first Stanley Cup.
Personal highlight - chatting on a crappy cell phone connection with Daren Puppa after the game (some slightly intoxicated friends of mine ran into him during the post-game celebration and forced him to talk on the phone).
Matt shares his thoughts on the Lightning’s game (and the officiating in the league as a whole). Both need to be better.
Geo breaks down the possibilities if Kucherov can’t go. The Lightning have literally been preparing for this all season long (still it would be great if played).
The Lightning hosted an event to help promote a vaccination push. Dr. Jill Biden made an appearance as around 70 people received their shots while the team had various activities on the ice.
Roloson was involved in a couple of Game 7s with the Bolts. He chatted with Seth Kushner about his career in Tampa.
There was only one story, right? The Montreal Canadiens are heading back to the Stanley Cup Final! Artturi Lehkonen wasted no time as he scored just 1:39 into overtime for the 3-2 victory. Old man Shea Webber and young man Cole Caufield also scored for Montreal. They await the winner of the Lightning/Islanders series.