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Tampa Bay Lightning's legacy of leadership fueled its playoff turning point

Mike Lundin has received an advanced education in playoff hockey this season, and all he has had to do is watch and listen.

The Lightning defenseman's visual aid is wing Marty St. Louis, who Lundin said is "one of the most intense competitive guys, normally. And when playoffs come, it goes up a notch."

And there is defenseman Pavel Kubina, "who lights up when he talks about the playoffs."

"You see how important it is to them and how much they enjoy it," said Lundin, in his first postseason. "Once you get here, you realize how special it is."

This is the way it is in the NHL, older players showing the way for the young, sharing experiences and knowledge, cultivating confidence and passion.

That is just what happened before Game 5 of Tampa Bay's Eastern Conference quarterfinal with the Penguins, arguably the most important moment of Tampa Bay's season.

Down three games to one and facing elimination, players who had been through such circumstances and come through victoriously spoke in the locker room.

The speeches were passionate and introspective, and provided a blueprint the team embraced.

Seven straight wins later, the Lightning opens its first conference final since the 2004 Stanley Cup run tonight against the Bruins at TD Garden in Boston.

"To have those guys and their leadership was huge," center Nate Thompson said. "Believe in each other and put your nose to the grindstone. You knew it could be done if they had done it, too."

•••

Ten Lightning players played their first NHL playoff games this season. Many, as coach Guy Boucher said, were, at first, "deer in the headlights."

So, when the Penguins took a 3-1 lead with Game 5 in Pittsburgh, "the first thing they're going to think of is it's over," left wing Simon Gagne said.

But Gagne was on a Flyers team last season that came back to beat the Bruins in the second round 4-3 after being down 3-0.

Goalie Dwayne Roloson was on a Wild team that in 2003 won two series after being down 3-1. And St. Louis, Kubina and Vinny Lecavalier were on a Lightning team that in 2004 was down 3-2 to the Flames and won the Cup in seven games.

"Having lived through it and done it, you can talk about it," Roloson said, "and guys can take some confidence from that."

"Most of the guys, the first thing they're going to think is it's over," Gagne said. "You have to make them understand that it's possible to (come back). Just focus on Game 5. That's the biggest game we had to play. If you win Game 5, anything is possible. That brought everybody aboard."

Especially after Tampa Bay won Game 5 8-2.

"What it taught us was that when there is no tomorrow not to worry about tomorrow," center Dominic Moore said.

"And from that point on," Gagne said, "you could tell that we were really thinking about winning this thing."

•••

St. Louis knows what senior leadership means because he saw it during the Cup run from players such as Dave Andreychuk, Tim Taylor and Darryl Sydor.

"It was amazing to have those guys there to get us through the ups and downs," St. Louis said. "You look up to those guys. You watched those guys on TV. You feel like they've been through it. When things don't go well, you can't wait for them to say something. When things go well, they're the ones who keep perspective and calm you down."

"And without that, you can't win," Boucher said. "Everything rises and falls on leadership. You can have all the skill in the world, even the best team in the league, if you don't have core leaders, you're not going to win, period."

That is why what happened before Game 5 in Pittsburgh was so important.

Not only did Tampa Bay's playoff newbies learn lessons that were applied against the Penguins and during a four-game sweep of the top-seeded Capitals in the East semifinals, the locker room embraced its responsibility.

"We've been doing that since the beginning of the playoffs, talking about our experiences and what we went through," Lecavalier said. "Everybody just brings a little piece of what they've been through in their careers. For guys in their first playoffs, it's nice to hear."

It's an education.

"Hopefully," Lundin said, "I get a lot of experience here in the next few years and someday I can do that, too."

Tampa Bay Lightning's legacy of leadership fueled its playoff turning point 05/13/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 13, 2011 8:48pm]
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