Last season, in a bubble in Edmonton, the Tampa Bay Lightning climbed to the peak of the NHL mountain. Getting up the mountain was tough, but staying up there when everyone is coming after you is much harder. That’s the challenge they faced this year. What the Lightning have done this season is pretty impressive in a normal year and doubly so in....waves hands at whatever this year was. With a shortened and sometimes compressed season, COVID-related restrictions, vaccine side effects, injuries, no fans, then some fans, then a lot of fans, playing the same teams over and over and over again, and muddling their way through some tough match-ups, they have overcome all of the obstacles save for one - the Montreal Canadiens.
Just like in a video game, the final obstacle/boss is the hardest to beat and gaining the four wins necessary will be tough, but the team put themselves in the position they need to be in in order to win it all again, something only the Sidney Crosby-led Pittsburgh Penguins have done in the Salary Cap Era. The Bolts have had some breaks along the way, and yes, straining the salary cap/LTIR rules to their maximum has allowed them to field a pretty impressive roster in the postseason, but they might have been able to do so without Tyler Johnson or David Savard.
This could be the last great run of the core players assembled under Steve Yzerman and strengthened by Julien BriseBois. No matter what happens, it’s unlikely they will find a way to keep everyone under the cap for next season. Granted, we said that last offseason and they managed to pull it off, but there can’t be too many tricks left up Mr. BriseBois’ sleeve when it comes to roster management. The good news is that strong playoff performances might have bolstered the strength of some of the trade chips he does have left.
That’s a discussion for down the road. Now, the only focus should be on the seven-game series ahead of the team right now. A chance to repeat and etch their name alongside some of the great teams of recent memory. The aforementioned Penguins, the Chicago Blackhawks (at least on the ice), and the Los Angeles Kings have been talked about as recent dynasties, and with a win against Montreal the Lightning can join them.
Sure, some people may be bitter and talk about asterisks or tainted titles, but who cares? Success breeds contempt and fans of those franchises would trade for the Lightning’s recent past in a heartbeat. Every championship team has a mix of skill, smarts (off and on the ice), and luck. The Bolts have managed to harness all three for the majority of the past seven years and are adding the trophies to their shelves.
However, they can’t start clearing space on their ego walls just yet. Montreal is not going to go down without a fight. They are not “just happy to be here”. They have the skill, and the goaltending, to win. If they do, it won’t be a fluke, and the Lightning won’t have choked, although I will assume those narratives will be thrown out there.
It wasn’t that long ago that the Lightning franchise was in shambles. Ownership was far from O.K., the finances weren’t great, attendance was trending downward, and talk of relocation was floating around the ether. Enter Jeff Vinik and Steve Yzerman. Mr. Vinik cut the checks, stayed out of the way, and let Mr. Yzerman put together a system and process that completely overhauled the franchise. They partnered up with the Syracuse Crunch, not only to use them as a holding place to develop their prospects, but to teach them how to win. One of the noteworthy aspects of relationship is how the GMs would make deadline deals that helped the Crunch, even if they had minimal impact on the NHL franchise.
They are truly a model franchise for the league and it’s great to be covering them at this point in their history. So, win or lose, celebrate this team, because you never know when it all may be over.
Julien BriseBois isn’t the architect that built the Lightning, just the one who renovated it
The fact that Mr. BriseBois hasn’t won a GM of the Year award yet (he finished second last year) is a travesty. Yes, he inherited a strong roster, but a lot of GMs have done that in the past and have steered the ship into an iceberg instead of port. Give the man some credit (although I’m sure he’s more than happy to just point to his name on the Stanley Cup).
Matt Esteves appears on Habsent Minded
Our venerable voice in the press box, joined our sister site, Habs Eyes on the Prize, to discuss the upcoming series. Give it a listen.
Tampa couple celebrate nuptials hockey-style
Getting married during a Stanley Cup run deserves a little hockey-style celebration. Good on, y’all.
Lightning Made Hockey Girls Only Hockey Camp
No one in the area does more for developing the next generation of hockey stars than Lightning Made Hockey, headed by Jay Feaster. Funded by the Lightning and the NHLPA, Lightning Made Hockey runs hockey camps for area youth (ages 5-10). They have an upcoming camp in August dedicated to helping young girls learn the game. They will receive a full set of hockey gear and instruction from Lightning alumni.
Joel Armia absent from practice
The winger was missing from Montreal’s final practice and GM Marc Bergevin announced he is in COVID protocol and won’t travel with the team to Tampa. That opens a spot for rookie Jake Evans, who has been out since sustaining a concussion earlier in the playoffs, to rejoin the line-up.
Alec Martinez played with a broken foot
It’s always fascinating when teams release their end-of-playoffs injury reports. Seeing what players put themselves through in order to chase the Stanley Cup is mind-boggling. Case in point, Vegas defender Alex Martinez played three rounds with a broken foot and led the postseason in blocked shots with 72.
NHL Power Rankings: Teams as superheros (subscription required)
ESPN (with their relationship with Marvel/Disney) has to be kicking themselves that The Athletic beat them to this storyline. For those without a subscription - the Lightning are Thor and the Canadiens are Spider-Man. Cool.
Blackhawks named in multiple lawsuits as investigation grows
We have entered the “who knew what and when” phase of the Brad Aldrich affair, the former Chicago trainer who has been accused by a former Blackhawk player of sexual assault during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs. The player’s lawyer has requested all documents from the Blackhawks pertaining to the matter including e-mails, meeting notes, and other communications. This is going to get uglier as more information is released.