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How trips to Sweden, NHL bubble made Lightning into Stanley Cup champions

When Lightning were alone, they came together and became a better team.
Lightning players celebrate on stage during the Stanley Cup Champions Celebration last week at Raymond James Stadium.
Lightning players celebrate on stage during the Stanley Cup Champions Celebration last week at Raymond James Stadium. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Oct. 5, 2020

The redemption tour is complete. It took almost a year and a half — 532 days, to be exact — but the Lightning followed an embarrassing first-round sweep with a Stanley Cup victory.

That end to last season forced the Lightning to come together as a team, and trips to Sweden, then the bubbles in Toronto and Edmonton, helped them do it.

As coach Jon Cooper said, they went from the outhouse to the penthouse.

Related: The Lightning will have their names on the Stanley Cup, and we have the memories

“You wear the bumps, you wear the bruises, you wear the heartache,” Cooper said after his team clinched the Cup on Monday. “... The fear of losing becomes greater than the joy of winning. We were not going to be denied.”

The Lightning owned last year’s loss. Even when they wanted to be done talking about it publicly, they held onto it.

This was not a linear path. The Lightning did not come into this season and dominate start to finish.

They fought through growing pains as they adjusted their mentality early in the season. They stumbled in what became the final 10 games of the regular season.

They had recurring issues: taking too many penalties and slow starts chief among them.

The Lightning were not a perfect team this season, but they were a focused unit.

Related: The Lighting's top five moments on their way to winning the Stanley Cup

“There was definitely a chip on our shoulder and so many people counted us out because of what happened,” captain Steven Stamkos said last week. “And we kept the core together, we added some vital pieces in the offseason and at the trade deadline, and we just came together.”

Two different trips helped that happen.

“It all started in Sweden,” Nikita Kucherov said last week. “I said we would do it (win the Stanley Cup) in Sweden.”

The Global Series gave the Lightning something nearly unheard of in an NHL season: an extended period to bond with only two games to play. They acted as tourists during the day and went out at night.

Teams often point to long road trips early in the season as a chance to reinforce team chemistry. The Sweden trip was that on steroids. Players said it at the time and again with the hindsight of a championship: something changed on that trip.

The two wins over Buffalo were the best the Lightning had played up to that point and finally set them on the path they had been talking about since training camp, playing a more responsible game.

In the bubbles, the Lightning didn’t have anyone but each other for 65 days. No one wants to socialize with the opponent during the playoffs.

Related: Everything you wanted to know about the Stanley Cup

Cooper said repeatedly throughout the season that this was a closer team than most, one without cliques.

Players played Spikeball, soccer, baseball and football together. They chilled by the pool. They ate all of their meals together. They leaned on each other and celebrated together.

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“We’re going to miss being together every single second of every day,” Stamkos said. “I mean, it just doesn’t get any closer than what we were able to accomplish in this bubble.”

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