Before current owner Jeff Vinik took the reigns of the Tampa Bay Lightning ahead of the 2010-11 campaign, the playoffs had been a struggle. The second round was a hurdle the Bolts hopped just twice. Their most recent two conference quarterfinals had ended in defeat in the 2005-06 and 2006-07 seasons. It was time to turn the tide as an organization. Playoff success was paramount as a new owner attempting to bring hockey fever, and the Stanley Cup, back to Tampa.
Ahead of Sunday’s second round date with the Carolina Hurricanes, let’s take a look back. A look at how the Tampa Bay Lightning have changed. This past decade, Vinik and company have built a playoff monster. A poised group. One that has head coach Jon Cooper’s full confidence in series-clinching games. One that doesn’t back down in the face of adversity. Starting with the 2010-11 Bolts, we examine each second round matchup’s key performances, and how the Bolts fared.
2010-11: Bring out the brooms
In Vinik’s first season at the helm, the Lightning were underdogs in every series they played in. The second round was their best performance in the playoffs that season. Coming in as a five-seed against the number-one Capitals, the Bolts, on the backs of Dwayne Roloson and their star scorers, got the job done. Quickly.
Martin St. Louis put up the most points of any Bolt that playoffs, with 20, and Tampa Bay, with assistance from Vincent Lecavalier and a young Steven Stamkos, blew by the heavily-favored Caps in four games. The run would end next round in a game seven defeat to Boston.
2014-15: More second round success aids Cup run
The Lightning didn’t return to the second round again until 2014-15, a year after being swept in four games by a veteran Montreal Canadiens squad. This run was really integral in the growth of the Lightning, as it gifted them the confidence they needed to consistently make deep playoff runs.
In Jon Cooper’s first first lengthy run behind the Bolts’ bench, and his second playoff appearance, the world was introduced to Tyler Johnson, and the ‘Triplets’ line. Johnson led the Lightning with 23 points in 26 games, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat, his line-mates, also sat in the top five in playoff scoring on the team.
Their second round? The Canadiens, and the Bolts got their revenge, fueled by Johnson heroics with a buzzer beater along the way. They would eventually lose in the Stanley Cup Final to Chicago in six games.
2015-16: Back to the conference finals following early drubbings of the competition
Coming off a taste of Stanley Cup Final action, Tampa Bay blew through the Red Wings in five games, setting up a matchup with the New York Islanders. Tampa Bay disposed of the Isles in an equally speedy fashion. This time it was Kucherov leading the way scoring-wise, with 19 points in 17 games, and Johnson not far behind with 17 points in 17 games.
The Lightning suddenly had confidence in the playoffs. The days of either missing or suffering early exits were in their rearview mirror. They went all the way to the ECF once again, falling to Pittsburgh in seven.
2017-18: Caps get timely revenge after Bolts dominated round two once again
While the Capitals ultimately avenged their 2010-11 defeat in the Conference Final of this season, the Lightning added to their incredible Round Two resume this decade, with a five game dismantling of a tough Boston Bruins team. The Bruins were everything you don’t want to face in the playoffs. Big. Talented. Lethal power play. The list goes on.
The Lightning stuck to their game, and led by a monstrous playoff and series from Kucherov, and secondary scoring from Brayden Point, advanced to face the Caps, who they fought hard in a seven-game defeat.
2019-20: Early success followed up in redemption tour Cup win
Finally, Tampa Bay’s success in the opening few rounds was backed up by getting it done in the ECF and the Stanley Cup Final. This second round was none other than the Bruins again, following the devastating sweep they suffered at the hands of Columbus in 2018-19. Tampa Bay took the series against Boston in five games again. In the bubble, the Lightning got over the hump and captured ultimate glory.
2020-2021: Canes on tap in intriguing second round matchup
That brings us to today. The Hurricanes series draws parallels to the Bruins matchup in 2017-18. The two squads are constructed similarly. They love to play with speed, on the rush, and capitalize on the power play like wildfire.
This is a Tampa Bay team, as demonstrated, that is no stranger to second round success or deep postseason runs. The key against Carolina will be details. Cooper wasn’t happy last round with some of the penalties that cost his team. Staying out of the box will be crucial for the Bolts.
Making sure the Canes don’t get behind the Lightning defense will also be a focus. We saw Tampa Bay do an excellent job of that against the Florida Panthers, specifically in game two, where they slowed down the Cats after a frantic game one and got on the attack themselves.
Regardless of who comes out on top, the Lightning have proven themselves capable in the second round and onwards, as they get set to kick off what has the makings of a phenomenal series. It’ll be the champs against the top team in the Central Division.
Buckle up, Bolts fans, and enjoy the ride.
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