Heartbreak. Maybe a little anger, frustration, what have you. Those are some of the feelings Tampa Bay Lightning players, coaches and fans alike are probably experiencing at this time. And who, really, can blame them after seeing their first postseason appearance since 2011 end in the blink of an eye, swept out of the playoffs by the only Canadian team to make the dance in Montreal?
Even in such bitter defeat, however, it’s important for this team to understand they have plenty to be proud of though. Whether it be individual breakout performances, or the well documented adversity these guys overcame on what seemed like a daily basis, the Lightning surprised many around the hockey world by just making the playoffs.
Think back to November 11, 2013. An event that nobody wants to relive, Lightning superstar and team MVP at that point, Steven Stamkos, slammed into the goalpost at TD Garden while back-checking Boston Bruins defenseman Dougie Hamilton hard. The result was a broken right tibia needing surgery, something that cost him four months and the chance to represent his native Canada at the Sochi Winter Olympics.
With his absence came plenty of questions. How would this offensive minded team survive without his sniping ability? Who was going to step up and shoulder some of the load Stamkos usually carried? Could the defense up their level of play to that of playoff-bound teams?
For the most part, those answers were yes. Rookies Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson produced Calder Trophy worthy seasons playing alongside former captain Martin St. Louis, and just continued that play alongside Stamkos once he returned March 6. Goaltender Ben Bishop set a Lightning record with 37 wins and the team, led by a surefire Jack Adams award candidate in Jon Cooper, as a whole earned 101 points, good for second place in the newly realigned Atlantic Division. Not too shabby if you take into account all the obstacles this team had to overcome.
Do the Lightning have areas that need improvement? Of course. What team doesn’t? Did this team get on the wrong side of some iffy calls during this series, ones that might have cost them another chance to play in front of their home fans? Controversial as it may be, yes they did. But that being said, there’s nothing for Tampa Bay to be ashamed of. They fought hard, against all odds, and proved they’re a team worth keeping an eye on for years to come.