Sunday, June 17, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

Here’s what I remember about the Lightning’s Stanley Cup. How about you?

You might not recognize the name, but my words were probably some of the first you read after the Lightning won its first – and, so far, only — Stanley Cup 14 years ago today.

In the days before social media, email newsletters and push notifications became commonplace, our website was the quickest way for the Times to deliver news to our readers. One of my jobs on June 7, 2004 was to produce a game story that we would publish at the buzzer on tampabay.com.

Because of that, my perspective that night likely was different from most of yours.

The main press box was bursting with local, national and international media, so I watched the first two periods from the auxiliary press box on the 300 level of the then-St. Pete Times Forum.

Screaming and slamming Thundersticks together, the sellout crowd was loud from the start — never more than after surprise hero Ruslan Fedotenko scored in the first and second periods to stake the Lightning to a 2-0 lead.

Because of my deadline and the need for a phone to send my story, I had to retreat to a work area in the lower bowels of the arena for the third period.

There, I heard the groans from the crowd after Calgary's Craig Conroy scored on the power play midway through the period to trim the Lightning's lead to a single goal. And the gasps when Nikolai Khabibulin stopped a Jordan Leopold shot later in the period in front of a yawning net.

When the final buzzer sounded and my story had been sent, I rushed with a handful of co-workers to a corner of the rink, where we watched from behind a curtain as Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk was presented with the Cup after a 22-year wait.

It was the culmination of a 2-1/2 month run that took the Lightning from Tampa to Long Island, Montreal, Philadelphia and Calgary before returning, fittingly, to Tampa.

Earlier in the postseason, I remember marveling at Vinny Lecavalier's behind-the-legs goal to beat Jose Theodore in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal against the Canadiens.

I briefly thought the Lightning's run might be over following a 5-4 loss in Philadelphia in Game 6 of the conference final. Less than two minutes from clinching the series, Tampa Bay watched as Keith Primeau scored the tying goal in regulation and Simon Gagne sent the series back to Tampa for Game 7 with the winner in overtime.

But where I expected chaos in the locker room, I found only calm.

Surrounded at his locker by a crush of reporters, Lightning associate captain Tim Taylor was the picture of composure.

"Any time you get beat, it clears your mind and gets you ready for the next game," he said. "Here it is. This is our season. We have to take advantage of it, and now we have to go get it."

The Lightning got it in Game 7, as Fedotenko and Fredrik Modin scored in a 2-1 win that sent Tampa Bay to its first Stanley Cup final.

There, it took down the Flames, despite a sea of red-adorned Calgary fans that clogged the streets of downtown Tampa while Lightning supporters completed their work days in the hours before Games 1, 2, 5 and 7.

I remember Vinny Lecavalier sparking the Lightning by fighting Calgary star Jarome Iginla during Game 3. Marty St. Louis' double-overtime goal to beat Miikka Kiprusoff high on the short side to stave off elimination in Game 6 in Calgary.

And the seemingly interminable wait for the clock to tick down with the Lightning clinging to a one-goal lead in the third period of Game 7.

When my final story had been sent for the newspaper, I joined a few of my colleagues for a beer at the bar on the concourse outside the arena as Lightning fans reveled around us.

After the series, I had the pleasure of keeping up a daily correspondence with Keepers of the Cup Walt Neubrand, Phil Pritchard and Mike Bolt to chronicle its travels with Lightning personnel.

Brad Richards washed down lobster with beer and champagne from the Cup on Prince Edward Island. Martin Cibak delivered it to a reception in Slovakia in a postal truck. Pavel Kubina and Stan Neckar took it bar-hopping in the Czech Republic.

Fredrik Modin drank birch shots out of it in Sweden. Dave Andreychuk hoisted it in Hamilton, Ontario, where an arena was renamed in his honor. It accompanied Andre Roy on a helicopter ride, where he proposed to his then-girlfriend in Quebec.

Those are the memories that stick with me 14 years later from the Lightning's most memorable season.

How about you?

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