What a ride … again. The Tampa Bay Lightning came so close to taking home a third straight Stanley Cup, something that hasn’t happened in the NHL since Ronald Reagan’s first term. Even the final game Sunday night was up for grabs to the end. As the final seconds ticked down, Lightning fans expected a miracle because the team has trained them over the last three years to expect just that. Alas, it was not to be. Still, so many great memories along the way.
The Lightning endured 60 days in a COVID-required bubble before beating the Dallas Stars to win the Stanley Cup almost two years ago. The next season, the team vanquished the Montreal Canadiens in the finals to once again raise hockey’s most coveted prize. This year, the team scraped and battled through three successful playoff series before falling to the Colorado Avalanche. At times against the Avs, the Lightning looked a little weary, a little slow. Maybe all the hockey — all that winning — over the last three seasons finally exacted an insurmountable toll.
Capturing the Stanley Cup is a grind. It requires playing well enough in the regular season to make the playoffs and then winning 16 games over four different opponents – and that’s just to win the cup once. The Lightning did it twice and nearly pulled it off a third time. Just how good were they? The team tallied 46 playoff wins in those three years, 15 more than any other team. Over that time, they delivered a master class in teamwork and resilience. Their superpower was the ability to bounce back after losing a game. They’d take the hit, let that sickening feeling sink in, and then use it to come back stronger. Maybe they can do it again, this time by coming back to win next year’s Stanley Cup.
In the meantime, let’s savor the moments. Andrei Vasilevskiy’s impossible flexibility, Ryan McDonagh’s courage and Patrick Maroon’s tenacity. Steven Stamkos’ booming shots into the top corner of the net. Victor Hedman’s deft passing. Nikita Kucherov’s uncanny vision. And, of course, the fans — loud, proud and perpetually optimistic.
The Lightning have given the Tampa Bay area three years of fun, a much-needed tonic against the world’s unpleasant realities. They came up a little short this year. No team can win every season, especially in the modern era of salary caps and free agency. So, thanks to the Lightning. Your fans won’t soon forget this glorious run.
Players and fans alike, time to get some rest. The next season starts in October.
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman Paul Tash. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.