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Memo to world: Um, yeah, the Lightning can still find the net

John Romano | For seven weeks, the Lightning have acted like office grunts. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final, they showed off some of their old tricks.
Tampa Bay Lightning's Brayden Point (21) scores on New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss (1) during the first period of an NHL Eastern Conference final playoff game, Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP)
Tampa Bay Lightning's Brayden Point (21) scores on New York Islanders goalie Thomas Greiss (1) during the first period of an NHL Eastern Conference final playoff game, Monday, Sept. 7, 2020, in Edmonton, Alberta. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP) [ JASON FRANSON | AP ]
Published Sep. 8, 2020

Well, hello, NHL. Remember us?

Sassy? Sleek? Dang near unbeatable?

Yes, that’s right! It’s your old friends, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Been awhile, yes? We would have called earlier, but we’ve been on a bit of a spiritual quest.

Penance, humility, introspection, the whole nine yards. We lost games, added a conscience, and voila! We’ve turned into the workingman’s dream. We try to keep the score low, we smack people into the boards, and we cut a much lower profile than we did in those cheeky, old days.

But don’t get the wrong idea. We can still beat you silly.

Or didn’t you watch us thrash the Islanders 8-2 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final Monday night? Those poor Islander fellas didn’t know what hit them.

Brayden Point took a pass in the neutral zone, did a little upsy-daisy maneuver on Ryan Pulock, skated past goaltender Thomas Greiss and put the puck in the back of the net. And that was 74 seconds into the game.

It just got snazzier from there. We were scoring goals like an NHL skills competition. And trust us, none of them were cheap. Nothing fluky, nothing you wouldn’t want to put on your highlights package. We had one shot the entire night that wasn’t blocked or stuck in the net.

Kind of makes you wonder where we’ve been the past 17 months or so.

The truth is, we didn’t go anywhere. We still skate faster than almost anyone else. We still shoot harder than most. We still make 3-on-2 rushes look like something choreographed by the Bolshoi Ballet.

And Monday night, we reminded the entire world of that.

Of course, it’s only one game. And the Islanders were just 48 hours removed from an emotional Game 7 victory against the Flyers in the conference semifinals. So you may not want to read too much into it.

On the other hand, did you see us?

Did you see Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh, a pair of defensemen, blasting shots past Greiss from 40 feet away? Did you see Pat Maroon unselfishly pass up a shot to skate behind the net and feed Yanni Gourde? Did you see Ondrej Palat score a goal while getting hooked from behind and splitting two defenders on his way to the net?

For heaven’s sake, did you see Point take a rocket pass from Hedman out of midair and flick the puck into the net?

This is what we used to do. Pretty darn regularly, too.

There wasn’t a team in the NHL that could match us for artistry or indulgence. We were the most explosive team anyone had seen in some time, and we played that way most nights. The problem is we forgot that the idea was to win instead of impress.

So we took a step back. Maybe a few steps back. And we didn’t pay any attention when the world asked us what was wrong. We learned to play with more discipline, more structure, more smarts. We gave up the red carpet and put on blue collars.

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But, to quote a long forgotten pop star, no one heard the music because it didn’t look the same. And no one seemed to consider that, perhaps, the only team capable of beating us was the one wearing our uniforms.

Did you even hear what Jon Cooper said about us Monday night?

He talked about taking too many penalties. About New York getting too much time in our offensive zone. He talked about discipline and perspective and needing to put this game behind us by the time Tuesday rolls around.

Not to sound too snarky, but that should scare you.

That should scare the Islanders, the Stars, the Golden Knights and everyone in the NHL who doesn’t want to see Lord Stanley’s Cup return to Tampa Bay. Because, it’s true, we are a different team in 2020.

We don’t have many eight-goal games anymore. We don’t even have many five-goal games anymore.

What we have is a new outlook to go along with our old skills. To put it another way, we don’t have to be the life of the party anymore.

But, ah, if you saw us play in Game 1, we’ve still got some moves.

John Romano can be reached at jromano@tampabay.com. Follow @romano_tbtimes.