For the first time since conquering the National Hockey League and clinching the Stanley Cup in 2004, the Tampa Bay Lightning has reached 106 points in a season. Not only did the team tie its franchise record, it surpassed it by ending with 108 points.
Many factors play into the Bolts' historic success. Coach John Cooper, who previously led the team's AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, to the longest winning streak in professional hockey history, is a leader for the books. General manager Steve Yzerman, a living legend, has the eye of a psychic when it comes to picking players. The pair could probably turn a group of squirrels into an elite hockey team.
In addition to exceptional leadership, a newly sculpted defensive core has been a boost for the Lightning. To top it off, the Bolts have been motivated by the thought of redemption ever since a shameful sweep out of the first round of last season's playoffs. Overall, however, the three main reasons for the team's success are as follows.
Steven Stamkos at full strength
He has 498 points in 492 career NHL games, and you don't have to be hockey savvy to realize what those stats mean. Stamkos, on track to be a future Hall of Fame inductee, is feared and respected far and wide throughout the hockey world for good reason. Losing the star to a snapped leg took a huge toll on the team as it headed into the postseason last year, but, fortunately, Stamkos has come a long way since. The sniper was healthy (knock on wood) and deadly as ever throughout the season, leading the Bolts straight into the first round.
Ben Bishop is a brick wall
For years, the Lightning's slew of short-lived goalies was about as effective guarding a net as a mall cop would be guarding the FBI headquarters. From the age-weathered Dwayne Roloson to the inexperienced, ineffective Anders Lindback, the team's goalie drought seemed to have no end in sight. That was before Yzerman finally found his saving grace, Ben Bishop, who turned what was once the team's most glaring weakness into one of its driving strengths. In his sophomore season, the 6-foot-7 monster proved that he had more than luck on his side in his rookie year. Bishop has established himself in the league for the long run.
Triplets line tough to stay with
Thanks to the Bolts' unparalleled farm system, talented youth has become one of the team's strong suits. Nikita Kucherov, 21, Ondrej Palat, 24, and Tyler Johnson, 24, monikered the "Triplets," combined for 200 points this season, the highest of any Lightning line. None of them have been in the big league for more than two full seasons. They have experience beyond their years, creating a challenge for every opposing team.