Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jones: No more oh-so-close. It's time for the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup

In the past two seasons, coach Jon Cooper had led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup final and the conference final.


In the past two seasons, coach Jon Cooper had led the Lightning to the Stanley Cup final and the conference final.

TAMPA — Time to win a Stanley Cup, boys.

For the past three seasons, the Lightning has come close. It has been a contender. The up-and-comer. The franchise full of potential. The team on the verge.

Three seasons ago, it finished second in its division. Two season ago, it went to the Stanley Cup final. Last season, it came within a game of going back to the Cup final.

All good stuff.

But sooner or later, you have to win the whole shebang. Sooner or later, you have to win a Stanley Cup.

Or else you wake up one day and realize that the window of opportunity is closed, that your best days are behind you.

"You got to make the best of every opportunity," Lightning center Tyler Johnson said.

That's because you never know when the next opportunity is going to come.

For instance, Johnson said, think about former Lightning forward Brenden Morrow. He reached the Cup final as a 21-year-old rookie in 2000 with the Stars. His next trip to the final didn't come until he was with the Lightning in 2015. He was 36.

RELATED: Find all our Lightning season preview stories at our Lightning page.

"I know that really resonated with me," Johnson said, "and I believe it resonated with everyone else on this team."

Little has changed with the Lightning over the past couple of years. The core of the team is among the best in hockey and remains the same: Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Nikita Kucherov and Ben Bishop. Jon Cooper has established himself as one of the brightest coaches in the game. The Lightning has scoring, grit and the experience of going through just about everything a team can go through.

It has had major injuries to major players. It has had contract squabbles and uncertainty. It has had controversies, such as the Marty St. Louis trade and the Jonathan Drouin soap opera of quitting the team and returning to become a star last season.

This team has seen it all, survived it all, done it all.

Well, except win a Cup.

"It's hard to get there," Cooper said. "It's really, really hard. We've played more playoff games than any team the last two years. I can sit here and say our last couple of years have been really, really successful, but they haven't been what we've wanted. The ultimate prize is to raise the Stanley Cup."

So every year that goes by means the window is closing.

"Make your own window," Cooper said, somewhat defiantly. "Whether expectations are there or not, our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. But as I look around — and I'm very fortunate to be a coach in the National Hockey League — if I was going to pick a team to be behind the bench of, it would be this one."

If there was ever a season in which it looked like the stars were aligned for Tampa Bay, it would be this one.

Stamkos' contract is done. Kucherov's contract is done. Drouin seems happy. Everyone except for Ryan Callahan is healthy, and he could be back in a few weeks.

And even if something was to go wrong, you get the sense that the Lightning would survive it.

"You never want go through these situations where major players get hurt at bad times," Cooper said. "(But) we've really learned to turn the page. You come to work every day and look at the 20 guys in the lineup and (ask), 'How are we going to win this hockey game?' "

More often than not, the Lightning has answered that question by going out and winning. There is no woe-is-me. There is no what-else-can-go-wrong? There is no packing it in and saying, "This just isn't our night or month or season."

TRAFFIC: Driving to the game? What you need to know to navigate downtown Tampa construction.

Still. The past three seasons have ended with a loss.

"We've been close the last two years, but close isn't good enough," Johnson said. "You don't really get anything for second or third place. That's not what you want."

The worry is that good teams are made up of good players, and eventually there's a salary crunch.

"You go deep in the playoffs," center Valtteri Filppula, "you tend to lose guys moving forward."

That will eventually happen to the Lightning. Before it does, however, there's one thing it needs to do, and it needs to do it now:

Win a Stanley Cup.

Jones: No more oh-so-close. It's time for the Lightning to win the Stanley Cup 10/12/16 [Last modified: Thursday, October 13, 2016 6:42am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. College World Series: Gators, LSU face off in all-SEC finals


    OMAHA, Neb. — The matchup for the College World Series finals bolsters the case for those who say the best baseball in the land is played in the SEC.

    Florida’s Brady Singer, delivering during a CWS win over Louisville last week, is scheduled to start tonight against LSU.
  2. Jones: Fox Sports Sun shows depth in Rays coverage

    TV and Radio

    tom jones' two cents

    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Tampa Bay Rays third baseman Evan Longoria (3) makes a run home for a score in the in the final game of a three-game series between the Tampa Bay Rays and AL East rival the Baltimore Orioles at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Sunday, June 25, 2017.
  3. Brian Boyle says returning to Lightning a 'huge option'


    As former Lightning forward Brian Boyle approaches free agency this week, he said he's trying to stay busy.

  4. Rays journal: Blake Snell to rejoin rotation, Erasmo Ramirez heads to bullpen

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — LHP Blake Snell is rejoining the Rays' rotation, but the move has as much to do with helping the bullpen as it does with Snell's improvement during his time at Triple-A Durham.

    Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Erasmo Ramirez (30) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Cincinnati Reds Wednesday, June 21, 2017 in St. Petersburg.
  5. Rays' bullpen stars lit up in loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Saturday it was the soft underbelly of the bullpen that let one get away from the Rays, incurring the wrath of the team's faithful followers, who wondered why the high-leverage guys weren't pitching.

    Rays closer Alex Colome, coming in with the score tied in the ninth, allows three runs in his second straight poor outing.