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Published Jan. 2, 2005|Updated Aug. 24, 2005

Who's the 2004 team of the year, the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Boston Red Sox?

Forget curses, seven-game comebacks and bloody socks. The Tampa Bay Lightning is the team of the year.

It's unfair to discount the Boston Red Sox's seven decades of suffering between World Series titles, but at least their "Nation" had savored some moments of joy, some hope, in between. The Lightning had seemingly concentrated as much misery into one foul-tasting decade-plus with little more than a sniff of prosperity.

Boston spent $130-million to buy out of its curse and win the World Series. A plucky, hard-working Lightning team won a Stanley Cup for a cheap $34-million, among the lowest 10 payrolls in the NHL. This spirited young team forged of smart drafting and tough decision-making won Game 7s in the conference finals and Stanley Cup despite its youth, overcoming the collective will of a nation pulling for Calgary.

In the end, the Lightning turned a muggy burg on Florida's west coast into a hockey town, at least for one mythic spring.


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