Heading into the 2013-14 season next to no one expected the Tampa Bay Lightning to make the postseason. When Steven Stamkos broke his right tibia Nov 11 in Boston, an injury that cost him four months and a chance to represent Canada at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, those few believers changed their tune to one suggesting the teams hopes of playing well into April had just received their death sentence.
Those people probably felt a little foolish Tuesday night, as the Lightning proved them wrong by beating the Montreal Canadiens and getting a little outside help to clinch their first playoff berth in two years. A great accomplishment for anyone, but even more so for this particular team.
Why, you might ask?
First off, this Lightning team refused to feel sorry for themselves, even as injury upon injury decimated the lineup to one filled with numerous young, untested rookies. To put things in perspective, first year players Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat played alongside captain Martin St. Louis on the first line during Stamkos’ absence. An unorthodox move, the opportunity to learn from a potential Hall of Famer helped these bright youngsters grow into their role as full time NHL players.
Each one’s reaping the benefits now, with both making a strong case for the Calder Trophy. Palat was also recently named Rookie of the Month for March, marking the second time he’s won the award this season.
Ben Bishop has brought stability to the goaltending position as well. His 37 wins and five shutouts rank second among league netminders behind Semyon Varlamov and Tuukka Rask respectively, while the 2.16 GAA and .927 save percentage he boasts is in the top six of each category. Pretty amazing considering this marks his first full season as a starter.
Longtime New York Ranger Ryan Callahan, acquired at the trade deadline in exchange for a suddenly bitter, selfish “My way or the highway” St. Louis, and offseason acquisition Valtteri Filppula also contributed to the Lightning’s playoff push in a big way.
As for Stamkos, he rejoined the lineup as the new team captain March 6, and has helped make the power play a little more lethal by registering a team-leading eight goals with the man advantage in 31 games. Just think what more this team could have accomplished (division championship) had they not lost one of the league’s best goal scorers for half the season.
Can the Lightning keep this storybook season going a while longer, possibly resulting in their second Stanley Cup championship? While unknown, they have the opportunity and that’s more than anyone can ask for after enduring what’s been, by far, one of the more trying seasons in their history.