TAMPA — The Lightning’s star players certainly have driven the team to back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. But they would be the first to say that you need contributions across the lineup and some unlikely heroes to lift Lord Stanley.
As the Lightning prepare for the Eastern Conference final, halfway to making history in their pursuit of a threepeat, the balance the team has received throughout the roster has been a key factor to their postseason success.
“That’s the beauty about our team,” captain Steven Stamkos said after Pat Maroon’s winning goal in Game 4 dispatched Florida in the second round. “Everyone contributes and that’s what you need this time of the year. We talk about it all the time, that you just never know when it’s going to be your moment. And the guys in this group have certainly not shied away from that. And it’s been fun to be part of.”
Lightning star Nikita Kucherov has had a remarkable postseason so far, leading the team in assists (11) and points (15), and usual suspects Victor Hedman, Stamkos and Ondrej Palat are also among Tampa Bay’s postseason points leaders. But this year’s playoff run has seen contributions from everywhere.
“I just don’t think you advance unless everybody contributes,” coach Jon Cooper said. “You can’t have the same guys keep doing it. I mean, you can have the same guys keep doing it, it’s just nearly impossible, because now you’re looking at 20-plus games if you want to keep going. It doesn’t happen in the regular season where you’ve got a guy carrying your team for 20-plus games. Everything’s magnified in the playoffs.”
Consider this: The Lightning’s last four series-clinching goals have come from unlikely sources. Before Maroon batted a puck out of the air behind Florida goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, the team’s previous series were won with a two-goal outing from Nick Paul in Game 7 in Toronto, Ross Colton’s Game 5 winner in last year’s Cup final, and Yanni Gourde’s winner in Game 7 of the final four round. The latter two were the only goals of the game.
“I think everyone has a role on each team,” said Maroon, a veteran leader who is averaging just 7:35 of ice time a game this postseason. “... In the playoffs, you need that mentality of any next man up. Anyone can be the hero, but it’s just everyone’s taking their role. It doesn’t matter where you’re playing or if you get moved down, they accept it. If you get moved up, they accept that. And that’s a huge thing for a team that wants to move forward in the playoffs.”
This postseason, the Lightning have received at least two goals from 10 different players. Third-liners Ross Colton and Corey Perry share the playoff goals lead with five apiece. And in the Lightning’s sweep of the Panthers, seven of the team’s 13 goals in the series came from bottom-six forwards.
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“That’s always a good sign as well, as long as your other guys are scoring, which they are,” Cooper said. “But it is a luxury to have everybody contributing, because it’s also good for the vibes and the mental side of things and as a team goes forward you know you have that. But if you’re just having a couple guys score all the time, you’re probably not going to last that long.”
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