Ranking the Lightning’s conference title contenders

by Gary Shelton on May 10, 2016 · 0 comments

in general

Is this the third-most impressive of the Lightning Conference Title teams?/TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Is this the third-most impressive of the Lightning Conference Title teams?/TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Tuesday, 6 a.m.

The landmarks all look the same. The park. The statues. The elementary school down the block.

Yep, you've been here before. You know the houses. The trees. The lake. There is something familiar about the neighborhood.

This is the land of the NHL Conference finals.

More and more, it is the homeland of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

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Bolts have made the Conference Finals four times in 13 seasons./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Bolts have made the Conference Finals four times in 13 seasons./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Over the last 13 seasons, with different coaches, with different stars, the Lightning has found its way back here. Against different opponents, with different goalies, the Lightning has been a team that matters.

But, at the halfway mark, how do those four teams stack up?

1. 2003-2004: This one is easy. Only one Lightning team has won the Stanley Cup, which is kind of the point. Not only that, but that Lightning team had more young stars than any team the Bolts have ever had.

Awards? Let's recap. Marty St. Louis won the Hart and the Art Ross trophies. Brad Richards won the Conn Smythe and the Lady Bing. John Tortorella won the Jack Adams. Nikolai Khabibulin was outstanding in the playoffs at goalie. Ruslan Fedotenko scored 12 goals in the playoffs, including two in the title game.

It was a young, talented team that seemed to be poised to threaten for years. But the NHL went on strike the next year, and it accelerated the contracts, which meant Khabibulin never played for Tampa Bay again. Once Bill Davidson sold the team, the run was over.

2. 2014-15: The Blackhawks were a respected opponent, but Lightning fans would like to replay the final series without injuries to Ben Bishop and Tyler Johnson. Still, the Bolts set records for most points in a season.

Offensively, the team had Johnson and Stamkos. Defensively, it had Victor Hedman and goalie Ben Bishop.

It was the first year of the vaunted Triplets line.

3. 2015-16: No one saw this post-season coming. Not the way the Lightning sputtered through the regular season. Goaltender Ben Bishop lost 21 games, including many he didn't deserve to lose. The injuries piled up. The focus came in and out for the team.

The Lightning then lost Anton Stralman. Two days later, it lost Steven Stamkos. They were losses that would have clobbered most teams. But the team has absorbed the minutes of Stralman, and Nikita Kucherov has scored often enough to make fans forget Stamkos...for the most part. Throw in Hedman, Jonathan Drouin and Alex Killorn, and this team has overachieved.

Of course, one more round would be nice, wouldn't it.

4. 2010-11: The Lightning's season of greatest overachievement was its first under Guy Boucher. There was a recklessness to that team that squeezed out every drop of its ability. Oh, Marty St. Louis scored 10 post-season goals, and Vinny Lecavalier was still here. But one of the key faces of the playoffs was Sean Bergenheim, who has never had a better month.

Goalie Dwayne Roloson was running on fumes in the playoffs, and he needed a boost from Mike Smith. But the Bolts weren't built to last. The Lightning finished only fifth in the conference, but ended up losing 1-0 in a seventh game to Boston in the Conference title.

Even the officials are impressed with Ben Bishop./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

Even the officials are impressed with Ben Bishop./TRAVIS PENDERGRASS

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