Lightning deflects talk of greatness

Tampa Bay’s 2018-19 season rivals some of the best in NHL history, but it insists its oblivious
Lightning center J.T. Miller (10) helped the team tie the NHL mark for fastest to 50 wins in a season, but Tampa Bay, at least publicly, refuses to yield to talk of greatness. [DIRK SHADD   |   Times]
Lightning center J.T. Miller (10) helped the team tie the NHL mark for fastest to 50 wins in a season, but Tampa Bay, at least publicly, refuses to yield to talk of greatness. [DIRK SHADD | Times]
Published March 5

TAMPA – It’s hard not to chuckle when the Lightning deflects its own accomplishments like Andrei Vasilevskiy blocks shots on net.

It’s almost laughable. Think about it – when was the last time a team like Tampa Bay had this kind of success throughout the regular season?

An All-Star goaltender that surpasses the franchise’s career shutout record? Check. An All-Star forward who leads the league in points (106) and assists (75)? Check. A team that has tied the mark for reaching 50 wins in a season, set by the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings? Check that too. A team that turned around its penalty kill in just one season, going from 28th in the league last season to now No. 1? Check again.

So does the team sense its marching towards greatness? Have they entertained comparisons to some of the league’s best? If you’re asking assistant coach Derek Lalonde, the short answer is simply no.

“I say that in a positive way,” he added. “I think the idea and mentality of judging us off performance is why we keep chugging along pretty good here.”

He credited coach Jon Cooper’s persistence of reminding everyone to live in the moment. It’s how the team has bounced back from tough losses like the one to Arizona at the beginning of the season and even to Boston last week.

And Cooper couldn’t have said it better than he did Saturday night following the team’s 5-1 win over the Ottawa Senators.

“As we’ve been winning here, I don’t know if we’re fully aware all the time,” he said. “A lot of the things I find out are in the media scrums after a win. It’s something you’ll always be able to look back and your name’s in the record books and I think years from now it will be pretty sweet."

But all of this hoopla, so to speak, hasn’t really made an indelible impression on the team throughout the season because none of it will mean as much without winning the Stanley Cup.

Lalonde hasn’t seen a high mark this season, and neither has Tyler Johnson.

“I mean we really haven’t done anything yet to be honest with you,” he casually said. “I mean we’ve won games and everything but that’s pretty small compared to what we want to accomplish.”

Braydon Coburn isn’t sure what to make of this team either. There’s still a lot of hockey to be played in the next months’ worth of games.

“I think it’s tough to say,” he said. “The story of this team hasn’t been written yet, but this team has to be right up there with the best teams I’ve been on.”

Alex Killorn also agrees.

“It seems like there’s a lot of chemistry, guys give each other a hard time,” he said, “but I think we’re the closest team I’ve ever been on.”

The success of this team hasn’t changed the plan for Steven Stamkos. Winning every night is the goal, but it’s more of a segue to the more significant goal.

“This group is not chasing regular season titles,” he said. “We want a Stanley Cup Championship.”

Contact Mari Faiello at [email protected]. Follow @faiello_mari.

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