It won’t be the only “D” word we hear in the coming weeks.
Did someone say dynasty?
After the Tampa Bay Lightning advanced to the third straight Stanley Cup final, it sure looks like this. This is a team built for the ages. It is certainly built to succeed in the salary cap era.
In some ways, that’s even more impressive than the four consecutive championships won simultaneously by the New York Islanders from 1980-83 or the Montreal Canadiens from 1976-79. After all, the league has never been so competitive with so many teams, playoff rounds or so.
How come Tampa Bay has been so good for so long? How come the Bolts haven’t had to rebuild or even take a year off after playing so much hockey like Chicago (2010, 2013 and 2015 championships), Los Angeles (2012 and 2014) and Pittsburgh (2016 and 2017) did? How do they keep winning? Again and again?
The salary cap was supposed to discourage dynasties and encourage parity. Instead, Tampa Bay continues to find loopholes, continue to hook up new players, and continue to expand its legacy.
No wonder they’ve called themselves the Tampa Bay Find-A-Ways.
In the past three years, the Lightning has won 11 consecutive playoff rounds, beating nine different teams. During that period, it has a combined record of 44-17. And while the bolts made it look easy, it’s been anything but.
The Lightning won a championship in a bubble where the captain played just one game. It won again in a shortened and shortened season in which the most talented forward, Nikita Kucherov, missed the entire regular season. This year, despite trailing the Maple Leafs, it won three best-of-seven series, losing to Brayden Point in the final game of the first round, and trailing the New York Rangers 2-0. in matches in the Eastern Conference finals.
“It will be difficult to get out of the moment and look back and realize what a special group we have here because there are still some games to be played and we are still not at the end of our target,” captain Steven Stamkos told reporters. “But when I say that, this group is pretty amazing, pretty special.”
Special is one way of describing what it would mean if Tampa Bay could complete the three-peat. But before we get ahead of things, the Lightning has one more round to win. And given the opponent, it looks like this is going to be the hardest.
“Certainly, the toughest test we will face,” Stamkos said of the Avalanche. “They might be the best team in the league. We’re going to have our hands full.”
Indeed, the Avalanche finished this season with the best record in the NHL. Since then, the Avs have lost only twice in these playoffs, beating the Nashville Predators and Edmonton Oilers.
Led by Nathan MacKinnon, who has scored 11 goals in 14 games, and Norris Trophy favorite Cale Makar, who has 22 points in 14 games, Colorado may be the only team in the league to match Tampa’s star power up and down . The Avs lead the playoffs in scoring (4.64 goals per game), have the second best power play (31.1% success rate) and are third in goals-to-average (2.86 per game) ).
And they are rested, having completed their Western Conference finals last Monday.
It doesn’t sound like time off matters when it comes to Nazem Kadri, who underwent surgery on his thumb for an incident that happened in Game 3 of the Western final and is in doubt for the rest of the playoffs.
But it should benefit goalkeeper Darcy Kuemper, who has not played since sustaining an upper body injury in Game 1. The only question is whether Kuemper will take his net back or whether Colorado will take on Pavel Francouz’s hot hand. will drive after he scored 10 goals in four games against the Oilers.
With the way defending Conn Smythe Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy plays for Tampa Bay – he has a save rate of 0.929 – the Avalanche may need both goalkeepers to get the job done.
Another question mark concerns the status of Point. For days we’ve been told that downtown Tampa Bay – which Rangers coach Gerard Gallant called “arguably their best all-around player” – is getting closer and closer to returning from a lower body injury sustained nearly a month ago. According to Lightning head coach Jon Cooper, Point remains doubtful for Game 1, but “highly likely” to appear in the series.
Maybe they’re just waiting for the moment they really need it. It’s another reason why Tampa Bay’s run has been so impressive.
And the scary thing is, no matter what happens in the finale, we may not have seen the last of the Lightning. With just four UFAs pending – forwards Ondrej Palat, Nick Paul, Riley Nash and defender Jan Ruuta – don’t be surprised if they’re here again next year.
And the year after.