The Lightning, an obliterating 46-11-4 with 21 games remaining, is constructing one of the more remarkable seasons in hockey history, recent or otherwise, and the best season a Tampa Bay sports team has ever rolled out, provided it closes the deal.
Here is its competition for best sports team in Tampa Bay sports history:
2002 Bucs (12-4, Super Bowl champions)
Jon Gruden and a Bucs team chock-full of personalities took the NFL by storm. The defense, led by Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch, led the league and held quarterbacks to a 48.4 passer rating.
2003-04 Lightning (46-22-8-6, Stanley Cup champion)
These guys made this a hockey town. They were relentless for a two-month stretch. They had star power, led by Marty St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Brad Richards. They had grinders, and they had goaltending. It added up to a championship on a crazed June night inside Amalie Arena.
2008 Rays (97-65, American League champions)
They came up short against Philadelphia in the World Series, but Joe Maddon and the Miracles were the talk of baseball. They were the upstarts. They had pitching, they had chemistry, they had shifts, they had Dan Johnson at Fenway Park, they had fearlessness.
1979 Bucs (10-6, NFC Central champions)
They went first. From 0-26 in 1976-77, the Bucs rose from the ashes and the laugh track to make the playoffs for the first time, behind Lee Roy Selmon, the best player in Tampa Bay sports history, and a superb defense. It ended in NFC title game, but what a ride it was.
2010 Rays (96-66, AL East champions)
Perhaps the deepest Rays team of all bounced back from a non-playoff season. It scored 802 runs. David Price won 19 games. Carlos Pena hit 28 homers. Evan Longoria drove in 104 runs. Carl Crawford had 19 homers, 90 RBIs and 47 stolen bases. These Rays seemed poised to make a deep run but were smoked by Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers in the postseason.
1999 Bucs (11-5, NFC Central champions)
They were one play (or one Bert Emanuel call) away from the Super Bowl. In what might go down as a signature moment, they held Kurt Warner and the St. Louis Rams, the greatest show on turf, to 11 points — in St. Louis. Sapp was voted NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But for a lack of offense, Tony Dungy and the Bucs win their first Super Bowl.
2014-15 Lightning (50-24-8, Eastern Conference champion)
This began an extended run of excellence. The Lightning upended the Red Wings, Canadiens and Rangers on way to the Stanley Cup Final before falling to the Blackhawks. It had Steven Stamkos, emerging stars (Tyler Johnson, Victor Hedman and Nikita Kucherov) and goaltending (Ben Bishop).
1975 Tampa Bay Rowdies (16-6, NASL champions)
In a smashing outdoor debut, the kicks in the grass went all the way, drew 22,710 to a game at Tampa Stadium and beat the Portland Timbers in the Soccer Bowl.