We are witnessing a different Tampa Bay Lightning team. I know that’s a hard pill to swallow after last night. But this year’s team is different. Definitely different than in recent postseasons.
This group of Tampa Bay Lightning players has something that many of us haven’t seen. Call it grit or fight. Say it’s a never quit attitude. Even if you can’t quite put your finger on what is different. I know some fans are worried because of the Game 1 result. This loss seems reminiscent of seasons past. Sure, you’d rather be up one than down one game. Just not the situation we find our team in.
For some in the fan base, they lump in the Game 1 loss with the past. Some are ready to throw in the towel. Before you burn your Lightning sweaters, think about this. Would it surprise you to know that eight times a Jon Cooper led team lost Game 1 of a playoff series? They won five of those series. Okay, so we may need some of the past stuff.
We’ve seen some very good Lightning teams in the last few years but it’s different this year. Since 2015, this is their second Stanley Cup Final appearance. They just played their fourth and won their second Eastern Conference Finals in that same time. Now, I’ve been accused of drinking the Lightning kool-aid a time or two. Maybe I’ve had a glass or three but this team feels so dissimilar from those recent Bolts teams.
It all started with the Columbus Blue Jackets series in the first round. These were the same SOB’s that swept the Lightning team that tied the record for regular season wins. It started with this series-Game 1. You remember that. Five overtime Game 1. One of the first thoughts I had was last year they would have lost this game. Not because the pain of the sweep but because it WAS Columbus. Yet, they persevered.
Must have felt like a dagger to the Blue Jackets. Losing a playoff game sucks. Losing a five overtime game in the playoffs is life draining. Four games later Columbus left the Toronto bubble. This Lightning team exorcised the Columbus demon for last year’s team. That difference is plain to see.
Making the Difference
Then came the Boston Bruins. That Game 1 was a wake up call. They lost 3-2 to the Bruins. Past Lightning incarnations might have hit the snooze on that alarm but not these boys. Four games later the Bruins were setting tee times. Are you seeing this trend?
After liberating the Bruins from the playoffs, the Eastern Conference Finals was next. The hope that all recent Lightning teams gave us was evident in Game 1 against the New York Islanders. An 8-2 beat down of the Islanders was sort of different. They’ve beat teams by three or four goals in the playoffs but six goals.
Being that Difference
The six goal margin was different and they’ve done that twice in these playoffs. Game 3 in the Boston series was a 7-1 Lightning drubbing of Boston. Three games later was Game 1 of the Conference Finals. Two wins by a six goal differential was well…different. Now it just isn’t one thing I’ve noticed. Go back to Game 2 against the Islanders. A tight one to one game looking like it’s headed to overtime. Islanders still reeling from the whipping they took in Game 1, were battling to even the series.
The clock ticking down…10…9..8…Nikita Kucherov ends the game and I can hear Dave Mishkin now. KUCHEROV SCORES. KUCHEROV. KUCHEROV SCORES WITH 7.8 SECONDS LEFT. Convince me that wasn’t different. Better yet, try to convince yourself.
Different Result for the Tampa Bay Lightning
Perhaps I’m not making the case that this squad is different. The defense is playing well. Is that because Victor Hedman? Of course it’s Hedman but don’t dismiss the positive effect of Zach Bogosian and Luke Schenn. It’s everyone doing their jobs, filling their roles regardless of game situations. Cooper deployed the 11/7 format in these playoffs and the lift from spreading ice time has helped the team D.
The offense is averaging three goals and you’re probably thinking it’s Brayden Point and Kucherov. Yes it is because they are in the conversation of the Conn Smythe as is Hedman. But things are different. Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman have contributed mightily this postseason. These two have played lights out on the Yanni Gourde line. Contributions on the Gourde line as well as the penalty kill have been significant by these two new players.
Even the penalty kill is different. They’re killing over 84% of their penalties. You thinking this is the same as in teams past right? Focus on their killing a five on three in the Conference Finals when the series was still in doubt. Not enough? What about in the Conference Finals games decided by one goal? There were three of them. Lightning won two of those and killed all nine penalties in those games.
Maybe this Lightning team will produce the same results we’ve seen from the organization in the last few years. I’m not going to sugar coat it either. It’s been disheartening and disappointing. When they were the youngest average age team in 2014-15 and made the Cup Final, we thought these guys are going to lift this Cup soon. Maybe we were as young and naive as the team. It has seemed like decades that they have been knocking on the door of the ultimate prize but remaining on the outside looking in. Like I said, I can’t quite put my finger on it, but this team is different. That said, now that I took a sip or two of my kool-aid. I’ll leave it like this: I BELIEVE.
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