By ROGER MOONEY
Times Staff Writer
TAMPA — The end result was the Stanley Cup championship, clinched with a 2-1 win against the Flames in Game 7 of the final.
But that series, those four rounds of playoffs, that season is only part of the story.
“We might have peaked at the right time,” said Brad Lukowich, a defenseman on that 2003-04 Lightning team.
It was all the losing seasons for the more veteran members of that team and the second-round playoff loss to the Devils the previous spring that prepared the 2003-04 team for its run to glory, which was celebrated before Saturday’s game against the Blue Jackets at Amalie Arena as part of the Lightning’s 25th anniversary celebration.
“We get by Washington (in the first round of the ’03 playoffs). We get snuffed out by New Jersey. We needed all that to happen,” Lukowich said Saturday.
“You go through those tough times. It’s not just one season a lot of times.
“Winning the Stanley Cup for (current Lightning captain) Steven Stamkos may be a five-, seven-year, 10-year process. It took us losing here and coming in and putting it all together at the right time. For this (Lightning) team, what I see, what (general manager Steve) Yzerman and all those guys have put together, you can be having some good conversations deep into the summer.”
The conversations about the ’03-04 team will continue as long as there are fans around to remember that season. They will remember Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier; the captain (and soon to be Hall of Fame member) Dave Andreychuk and goalie Nikolai Khabibulin. They’ll remember playoff MVP Brad Richards, and coach John Tortorella and his firey demeanor behind the bench.
They’ll also remember the guys who skated outside the spotlight, players such as Andre Roy, a fourth-line forward who is tickled by how much love Lightning fans shower on him each time he returns to Amalie Arena.
“It’s a group that did a special thing in winning a Cup together,” St. Louis said. “You feel like you are binded together for a long time. … It’s a special group, and obviously when you win, you are brothers forever.”
An example of that brotherhood came in the ’03-04 season during an early January meeting in Montreal after the team had lost nine of 14 games, with two ties.
“We weren’t playing like we should be, we were a better team than our record showed,” Roy said.
That meeting was a turning point.
“From there we picked it up,” Roy said. “We went on a winning streak. Confidence-wise, I think the whole team, you could tell guys were confident. We’re down by two goals, whatever, we bounce back, come back and win games. A lot of character guys. Everybody knew their role.”
The Lightning responded with five straight wins to a start a stretch in which it won 25 of 33.
The season finished with confetti, champagne and the players gathered in the dressing room, surrounding the Stanley Cup.
“It’s weird,” Richards said. “It’s hard to explain because you’re so focused on trying to win and do what you need to do. The next day you wake up and wonder why you can’t pause that moment and enjoy it longer. That’s probably the worst part. It goes by too quick. But when we did have a little time together, there’s nothing like it.”
That’s what the past few days were for the ’03-04 team: dinner Friday, a golf outing Saturday, a blue carpet walk into the arena before Saturday’s game, on-ice introductions and more thunder from the fans.
“It’s all a reminder,” Lukowich said, “of what was.”