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Lightning come up just short in Stanley Cup promise to new teammates

The back-to-back champions sought a third title not only to make history but also to get rings for those who hadn’t been part of their previous runs.
Lightning right wing Corey Perry came out on the wrong end of the Stanley Cup final for the third consecutive season.
Lightning right wing Corey Perry came out on the wrong end of the Stanley Cup final for the third consecutive season. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 27|Updated Jun. 27

TAMPA — When Corey Perry was recruited by the Lightning this past offseason, his new teammates told him they weren’t done yet. The two-time defending champions were hungry for a third straight Stanley Cup.

The words echoed throughout the season and into the playoffs as the Lightning pushed past the Maple Leafs, Panthers and Rangers before their quest was halted by the Avalanche.

When Colorado clinched the Cup with a 2-1 victory Sunday in Game 6, it Tampa Bay’s disappointment wasn’t just over falling short of its ultimate goal. The team also felt it failed to keep its word to Perry and the other newcomers.

“I honestly feel bad for (Pierre-Edouard) Bellemare, (Riley) Nash, Paully (Nick Paul), (Brandon) Hagel, (Brian) Elliott, Pears (Perry),” wing Pat Maroon said through tears Sunday after the loss. “We owe them one, and hopefully we’ll be back next year and it will be a better feeling than this.”

The loss was especially painful for Perry, who sought his first Cup win since 2007 in Anaheim, his second year in the league. After his 17th NHL season, he is still searching. He became the first player in league history to lose three consecutive Cup final series with three different teams (Dallas in 2020, Montreal in ‘21 and Tampa Bay in ‘22).

“You don’t want to be that guy that three times came here and didn’t win,” said Bally Sports Sun analyst Brian Engblom earlier in the playoffs.

While Perry, Bellemare, Elliott and Hagel are under contract through the 2022-23 season, the same can’t be said for Paul and Nash, who will enter unrestricted free agency on July 13 without a guarantee of returning to the Lightning, given their tough salary-cap situation.

Tampa Bay has to stay under the $82.5 million cap while finding a way to retain most of its roster, which is at risk of losing forward Ondrej Palat and defenseman Jan Rutta.

“I’m just sick to my stomach for some of these guys,” captain Steven Stamkos said. “Some guys didn’t get a chance to win with us the last couple of years. When they signed with us, we told them we’re going to make a run. We came up short.”

The Lightning, however, aren’t closing the door on next season. As painful as it is right now, the team feels it can use the setback as additional motivation to get back to boat parades and sipping Bud Light out of the Cup a year from now.

“We’re not done,” coach Jon Cooper said Sunday. “Like, the last eight years, we went to six conference finals. ... Today is a crushing loss, and we play this whole season to get to this goal, and we finished two days short of winning and being a part of this history.”

Lightning players receive Conn Smythe votes

In addition to the Stanley Cup, Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar left Amalie Arena with the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the playoff MVP. Makar was a unanimous selection on the 18 ballots cast by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association.

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Colorado center Nathan MacKinnon was second on all but three ballots. A few Lightning players received third-place votes. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy had four, while Palat and Stamkos had three apiece.

Here’s how the Tampa Bay Times’ voters cast their ballots:

Eduardo A. Encina: Makar, Nathan MacKinnon, Palat

Mari Faiello: Makar, MacKinnon, Palat

Contact Mari Faiello at mfaiello@tampabay.com. Follow @faiello_mari.

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