Can the Bucs match the Bolts’ success?

by Gary Shelton on July 16, 2021

in general

Arians' team won its biggest game./TIM WIRT

Friday, 4 a.m.

The way I have it figured, it's the Tampa Bay Bucs' turn.

Winning. Partying. Boats. Trophies. Cigars. Maybe a little beer.

This is all getting silly. The sports teams of Tampa Bay keep winning titles and keep changing the way we feel about them. At one point, we made as much fun of them as anyone. Now, they are on top of their respective mountains. You might say that the view is pretty good.

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But the two teams that have won it all are the Lightning (twice) and the Bucs. Which means that the Bucs have some footprints to follow.

Yeah, if you believe twitter, the Bucs were paying attention to the Lightning's successful title defense. Winners love winners, and there was much to admire about yet another championship run.

But were the Bucs paying close attention?

Hey, let's not be silly. They're different sports, played on different surfaces. But the elements of winning remain constant, don't they?

So what should the Bucs have learned that will be vital to their own title defense?

Let's count.

-- Toughness. The Bolts had plenty of that. From Nikita Kucherov's broken rib to Alex Killorn's broken leg to Victor Hedman's damaged meniscus, to Barclay Goodrow's broken hand to Ryan McDonagh's broken hand, gauze was an unappreciated part of the Bolts run.

The Bucs, too, play a physical sport. Just Thursday, it was reported that quarterback Tom Brady played the entire season with a torn meniscus and part of it with a broken thumb. Vita Vea made a quick comeback in the post-season. Yeah, the Bucs were tough guys a year ago. Let's see if they can stay that way this season.

-- Resiliency: It's a huge factor for a sports team. The Lightning, remember, kept bouncing back after losses. They were 7-0 in this year's playoffs after losing, and 14-0 the last two years.

The Bucs' playoffs are a one-and-done proposition, so it won't matter in the post-season to come back from defeat. But in every sport, there are bad quarters and bad series and bad turnovers that a team has to overcome. That'll be as important to the Bucs' success as anything.

-- Killer instinct: Hockey always feels like a long grind, but really, it wasn't. The Bolts finished off Florida in six games, Carolina in five, the Islanders in seven and Montreal in five. They were quick about it a year ago, too.

The Bucs' killer instinct grew over the closing weeks of last year. Remember how they snuffed Washington, New Orleans, Green Bay and Kansas City in a row.

-- Star power: The Bolts had plenty of it. Andrei Vasilevskiy threw a shutout every time the Bolts closed out a series. Nikita Kucherov scored more than 30 points for the second straight year. Brayden Point scored a goal in nine straight games.

The Bucs have some star power, too. Tom Brady was the Super Bowl MVP, but it could easily have gone to Shaq Barrett or Devin White. All three of those should be good this year. So should Mike Evans and Chris Godwin and Lavonte David and Antoine Winfield... you get the picture.

-- Hunger: Say this for the Lightning. As huge an accomplishment as winning it once was, the Bolts weren't satisfied. They finished third in the regular season, but they found the "on" switch in the playoffs. If anything, the first Stanley Cup was an appetizer. The second one was the main course.

In football, satisfaction is a common enemy. Most Super Bowl teams don't repeat because that naked desperation of the previous year fades. Brady should help with that. He's one of the least-satisfied players in sports history.

Ability to travel: It's fun to play at home. But the Bolts were 7-3 on enemy ice this post-season. (They were on the road all the time the previous season). Angry noise seems to sound a lot like applause to them.

The Bucs march a year ago happened largely on the road, going to New Orleans (the Saints had clobbered them twice in the regular season), to Green Bay (one of the least-liked places to play in the league) and Washington. They won all three of them.

This year, the Bucs' regular season includes games at the Rams, at the Patriots and at the Saints (among others). They will hope to not have to match last season's road challenges, but it's possible.

-- Smarts: The guys who vote for coach of the year don't recognize it, but the Lightning's Jon Cooper is pretty good. He's reached the playoffs seven years out of nine, and he's reached three Cup finals. The best he's done in the voting for the Jack Adams Award was second back in 2019. General manager Julien BriseBois has been deft at the trading deadline for two years, but this off-season will be his biggest challenge.

Pro football teams do most of their building in the off-season, where Jason Licht has put together an impressive off-season. But football is a game of adjustments. Bruce Arians (and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles) will face challenges this season, too. They'll have to overcome slumps and injuries and penalties and turnovers.

Do that, just that, and the Bucs can lift a second straight trophy.

Maybe they can dent theirs, too.

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