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Lightning

Walking Together Forever

The Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Montreal Canadiens 1-0 in Game 5 Wednesday night to win the Stanley Cup. In case you aren’t keeping track, this is back to back Stanley Cups. Soon, the 2021 roster of the Lightning will have their names etched forever on the best trophy in sports. For now and for the rest of their lives these players will walk together forever as Stanley Cup Champions.

It isn’t hyperbole to say the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in professional sports. To hoist the Cup, a team has to win four grueling best of seven game series.  It is the sport’s world war of attrition. Don’t believe me? Alex Killorn broke his fibula laying it out to block a Shea Weber slapshot. Those have been timed at over 100 miles per hour. That hard piece of vulcanized rubber coming at you and coming in hot. How many of you would consciously put yourself in the way of that? 

What It All Means

To think the Tampa Bay Lightning just pulled off a repeat of a Cup win is admirable. For the Lightning fans who’ve witnessed this accomplishment, we saw the truly remarkable. And it’s the team’s fan base that will ensure this group of players will be walking together forever. In our hearts and in our minds. The memory of this Cup win in front of almost a packed Amalie Arena  will stay in this area forever. 

Think I’m caught up in the Cup hysteria? That’ll come with the boat parade next Monday. In all honesty, I’m caught up in the joy this roster has foisted upon our community. We see the billboards and signs throughout the greater Tampa Bay area.  I can’t imagine a neighborhood in these parts that doesn’t have Lightning flags flying proudly. 

Remember these names. Don’t forget the effort we saw game in and game out. Did they win every game? Hell, they didn’t even win their division in the regular season. But when it counted they won. They won squeakers and they won blowouts. Even when they lost in the playoffs, they won the very next game. Every single time including the clinching Game 5. Remember these boys. They gave it all they had and what they brought to us was the two Stanley Cups in them. 

Looking Forward(s)

Maybe it’s the Captain of this team in your thoughts. Nobody has worn the Lightning sweater longer than Steven Stamkos. We all saw the elite scoring skills when he was a pup as an 18 year old back in 2008. He’s given his all for us for all of his 13 seasons.

Can’t forget the dual superstar forwards, Nikita Kucherov and Braydon Point. All the goals, assists and plays they made that made us say “holy crap” did he just do that? Might be the third line on your mind. Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. Arguably, the hardest working line in the entire league. The coaches have so much confidence in this line that you can’t remember the last playoff game they didn’t start. 

I bet some are thinking about the future Selke Trophy winner, Anthony Cirelli. He plays balls to the wall every shift. He’ll lay a hit on an opponent and take one just as hard. Then your memory shifts to what many call the beginning of this run in 2015. When Kucherov, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat were the fresh faced Triplets line. They were kids then, Palat and Johnson are now over 30 years of age. Hard to measure their contributions statistically sometimes but not emotionally. 

How in the hell can we forget the Big Rig? Pat Maroon now has won three straight Cups. Plus he’s the best mic’d up player in the NHL. Even though Mathieu Joseph and Ross Colton are still young, they now have a good amount of postseason experience. Colton is only the 5th NHL rookie to score the Cup winning goal in history. Joseph and Colton will provide many future memories but we will forever remember them for this season.

Can’t Get Defensive

Besides Stamkos, the other cornerstone of this franchise is the best defenseman in the league, Victor Hedman. Second only to Stamkos in games played for this team, Hedman leads a group that stepped up huge in the postseason. Would it surprise any of you to know they allowed one or fewer goals in 11 games? Those 11 games were all victories. That is the defense of this team stepping up. 

Ryan McDonagh gets a lot of love from the fans if not the hockey world. In my opinion, he’d be a top pairing D-man on most if not all other NHL teams. But there are others that we will remember. Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak are still relatively young but played like grizzled veterans. The improvement we’ve seen in these two is evident. Sergachev has worked hard to improve his defensive skills because we know he has that heavy shot. Cernak has worked to improve his offensive skills and actually scored the first goal in this Cup Final.  

The Lightning acquired David Savard at the trade deadline and sure enough there he was with the assist to Colton for the Cup Final winning goal. The rest of the defensive corps won’t soon be forgotten. Jan Rutta, Luke Schenn and Cal Foote all contributed to the successful season though Foote didn’t see any playoff action. He was there for 35 of the 56 regular season games, mostly filling in when others couldn’t answer the bell.

Minding the Net

Perhaps it’s the All World goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, the Conn Smythe winner. The Big Cat was incredible this postseason and last. He played every minute of every game in the two Cup championships. He was so good in these playoffs closing out each series with a shutout. So many shots he faced over the last two seasons and so many fricken saves. 

Then there’s his backup, Curtis McElhinney. He gets a lot of guff from portions of the fan base. It’s as if some in this town expect him to play like Vasilevskiy. He cannot. Frankly, no one can. But  think about this, in the last two seasons McElhinney stepped in for the best goalie on the planet 30 times. Had he not done that or been available would Vasilevskiy have been able to play every minute of every playoff game over the last two postseasons?

Walking Together Forever

The reality of the business side is that no NHL team stays completely intact year after year. Think about all the great teams throughout the history of the league. From season to season they change rosters. Maybe it’s only one or two players. If warranted, sometimes it’s wholesale changes. 

A couple of certainties will face this Lightning team and their fans. First, the 2021 roster will never play another game as a team. I know it hurts to read that, believe me it hurts for me to write that. Because of the salary cap, because of the upcoming expansion draft, we all know we have seen the last of this team. That’s why we have to remember. Savor these memories. The players, the games, the plays. Take it all in. 

Another certainty is that despite the fact that we’ll never see this particular group again, we still have the parade. Enjoy the next few days of celebration but keep one thing in mind. Remember this season, remember these names that will be etched on the Stanley Cup forever. What these boys have accomplished will cement in our minds that they will be walking together forever in our hearts.

 

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