Folks, for the fourth time in six seasons, the Tampa Bay Lightning are one win away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final and playing for hockey’s ultimate prize. They hold a 3-1 series lead on the New York Islanders and they can clinch a trip back to the Stanley Cup Final tonight with a win.
This last win in the conference final has always been an incredibly tough one for the Lightning to get as in their past three trips to the Stanley Cup Final they’ve blown 3-2 series leads and forced game seven. Their record in conference final game sevens in that span is just 1-2 with the lone win coming in 2015 against the Rangers and the two gut wrenching losses coming against the Penguins and the Capitals.
So in some ways, these clinching games have sort of become a personal nemesis for me. I’m tired of seeing my team not win them. I don’t want to give the Islanders any life in this series. I want it to end tonight.
I’m also bummed out that I can’t be at the game tonight. I’ve been blessed enough to be at five series clinching games that the Lightning won between 2015 and now and there’s absolutely nothing like it. Believe me, I understand why I can’t be at the game tonight but it straight up sucks. This is easily the best Lightning team that I’ve ever watched and I really think that they’re a lock to win the Stanley Cup this season. I don’t think that the Dallas Stars could beat us in a seven game series at all. Not being there to see them potentially win the Cup in 10-14 days or so is a total bummer for a lot of fans who love Lightning hockey.
That being said, I’m ready to finally win this thing. It’s been taunting us Lightning fans since we lost in the Stanley Cup Final in 2015. We’ve been so close virtually every season yet so far. While those losses still hurt, the hurt will subside drastically if this core group gets a Cup. They deserve it because they’re fantastic hockey players. It’s been such a privilege as a fan to see some of these guys grow as players and watch their entire career arc.
Victor Hedman is the best defenceman in the game. When I first started watching the Lightning in 2012, he was still growing as a player. Now he’s a generational talent and someone who will be talked about as an all-time great.
The first time I ever saw Nikita Kucherov play was at a Lightning vs Panthers preseason game in 2013 at Germain Arena in Fort Myers, Florida. I had never really heard of him other than the fact that I knew he was a draft pick of the team and this dude comes out and scores the game winning goal in overtime. A few months later I went to a Lightning vs Rangers game a few days before Thanksgiving and he scores on his first career shot in his first career shift. I didn’t know then that I’d be watching a perennial Hart candidate play year in and year out but it’s been quite the ride.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is another guy who’s grown a ton. Very rarely do goalies live up to the hype when they’re as hyped up as he was but he absolutely has. He’s consistently been a top 3 goalie in the league over the past 3 seasons and he’s still just 26 years old.
Brayden Point is another guy who’s just been a joy to watch grow as a player. He’s legitimately one of the best centers in hockey now and if we end up winning the Cup then he’s going to win the Conn Smythe Award for playoff MVP. This dude is the engine that drives the team and he plays the game the right way.
There’s nobody on this team that deserves a Stanley Cup more than Steven Stamkos. Yes, I know he’s missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season with a nagging injury but this guy is the reason why this team is still in tact. When he gave Tampa a huge hometown discount in 2016 instead of doing what noted fraud John Tavares did by going to the Leafs, he set a precedent that the star players who play here give the team a hometown discount. All of the players mentioned above did just that. I hope that he’s able to play in the Final because seeing him lift the Stanley Cup would be fantastic.
But it’s more than just the stars of this team that deserve a Stanley Cup. It’s guys like Ryan McDonagh who would be a number one defenceman on most teams but he’s put his pride aside and has played second fiddle to Victor Hedman. It’s the Alex Killorns and Ondrej Palats of the world who have been consistent contributors on the team and been able to play up and down the entire lineup for their entire careers. Lightning Head Coach Jon Cooper, who has gotten roasted by many fans like myself, deserves a ton of credit for changing the structure of the team and putting us closer to hockey’s ultimate prize. His name deserves to be on the Stanley Cup as much as anyone else on this team.
The mission is still far from being completed but a great chapter of it will be written tonight if the Bolts can close this series out against the Islanders.
Let’s get it done.