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While chasing history, Lightning want newcomers to get their own championships

History aside, this veteran group wants to win a third straight for the teammates who weren’t a part of their title runs.
Lightning left wing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) celebrates with right wing Corey Perry (10) and defenseman Zach Bogosian (24) moments after scoring against Toronto during Game 4 of the first round.
Lightning left wing Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (41) celebrates with right wing Corey Perry (10) and defenseman Zach Bogosian (24) moments after scoring against Toronto during Game 4 of the first round. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published May 17|Updated May 17

SUNRISE — The Lightning won back-to-back Stanley Cups with mostly the same group, and last season’s “Last Day of School” championship run was a special one because they all knew the roster would look a bit different this season.

New players came in with the lure of winning the Cup. At this year’s trade deadline, the Lightning added two players who had never played in the postseason.

The Lightning have a welcoming locker room. Players who join the team talk about how they’re treated like family from their first day.

And now, as the Lightning chase history — trying to become the first team to win three straight Cups in nearly four decades, and the first of the salary cap era — the group that already has two championship rings has found added motivation in getting the players who weren’t here the past two seasons their own hardware.

Lightning left wing Nick Paul, front, and Maple Leafs defenseman Justin Holl (3) collide during the first period of Game 6 in the first round.
Lightning left wing Nick Paul, front, and Maple Leafs defenseman Justin Holl (3) collide during the first period of Game 6 in the first round. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

“You almost feel bad for those guys because in a lot of our meetings, we talked about how we won two Cups, and it’s easy to forget that those guys weren’t in the room when we won those two Cups,” forward Alex Killorn said. “When we draw back on our experience, whether it’s a video session or things we’ve done in the past, those guys weren’t there for that and they have to hear about it all the time. So it’d be nice to get them one.”

Back in October, the Lightning received their 2020-21 Stanley Cup championship rings during a lavish ceremony that included a performance by Fall Out Boy at owner Jeff Vinik’s home.

At that ceremony, Lightning captain Steven Stamkos took the podium and talked about the drive for three straight.

I think after winning two Stanley Cups, it’s OK to say you’re a little full,” Stamkos said then. “I was joking with the guys before, there’s always room for dessert. So the third one can be dessert.”

Newcomers Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and Brian Elliott weren’t there.

Lightning backup goaltender Brian Elliott is one of the newcomers to the team this year looking for his first Stanley Cup ring.
Lightning backup goaltender Brian Elliott is one of the newcomers to the team this year looking for his first Stanley Cup ring. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

When the Lightning made a trip to the White House last month to receive recognition for both Cup titles, those players, as well as trade deadline acquisitions Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel, weren’t there.

“You look at some of the things we’ve done, like just going to the White House,” coach Jon Cooper said. “And a lot of guys, the whole team couldn’t come and getting these opportunities where we had outings this year and the team would meet, except for a group of guys that weren’t part of it. We’ve had a lot of these scenarios in the last two years and you know, it’s just not the same when it’s not your team.”

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“And we understand it was last year’s team that won, not this year,” Cooper added. “But there’s a reason Bellemare signed here and Perry signed here and Elliott signed here and then you go through the guys who we acquired in trades. And when you become such a close-knit group, you don’t want guys to be left out, and so there’s a sense of (motivation) there’s no question.”

Perry won a Cup as a 22-year-old in Anaheim and came close the past two seasons playing for Dallas and Montreal, the teams the Lightning beat in the final. Bellemare went to a Cup final in 2017-18 with the expansion Golden Knights, and Elliott played for a Blues team that went to the Western Conference Final in 2015-16.

Lightning forward Nick Paul (20) celebrates his goal with teammate Brandon Hagel (38) in Game 7 of the first round.
Lightning forward Nick Paul (20) celebrates his goal with teammate Brandon Hagel (38) in Game 7 of the first round. [ NATHAN DENETTE | Associated Press ]

In March, both Paul and Hagel went from teams that weren’t making the postseason to a Lightning team on “the cusp of greatness,” as Cooper put it eloquently before the Lightning’s Game 7 win over Montreal. Both have played instrumental roles that continue to grow.

“One-hundred percent (you can feel the motivation),” Perry said. “You can tell in that dressing room that they’re still hungry and the job is not done.

“When I got the call from (Stamkos) when I signed and he said, ‘We want to do this again. We’re not done,’ that just stuck with me all season long. It just proves to you that when your captain comes out and says — what was it, three, four or five days after that after winning? — you know, it sticks with you.”

After that clinching win in Toronto, Stamkos and Paul sat together at the postgame news conference to reflect on a win that kept their three-peat dreams alive. Two players who grew up in the Toronto area, one with two Stanley Cups and a Hall of Fame resume, the other a talented 27-year-old getting his first taste of the postseason.

They were asked about motivation. What has kept them hungry when it would be easy to rest on their accomplishments?

Stamkos chirped up.

“Well, I think something that doesn’t get mentioned is some of the players like (Paul) that weren’t here in the past couple of years,” he said. “I mean, that’s motivation. Let’s get these guys a chance for a Cup. I know (Perry) has one, but let’s get him another one. Let’s get (Bellemare) one. Let’s get Brian Elliott one. ... The list goes on.

“That’s part of the motivating factor. And listen, once you put that Bolts uniform on, we know what we’ve accomplished the last few years. But it really is a new year and it’s going to be as hard as ever as we saw with (the Toronto) series. ... But listen, we want to win with this group and these guys.”

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