If the end is near, someone must tell the lightning

Brandon – If this was a movie, the credits would have been rolling out months ago.

The story of a team’s rise through setbacks and meltdowns to become back-to-back champions before they fell valiantly, frantically approaching their third consecutive title.

Get musicality as they skate on the ice of the Amalie Arena after Game Six of the Stanley Cup Final against Colorado, and they’ve never performed together as a band of mismatched brothers again.

But tell me, what if this isn’t really the end?

What if Lightning had a sequel to tell?

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Not likely. Another Stanley Cup race idea, that is.

The gap between the Lightning and the rest of the Eastern Conference had been narrowing over the years and might have finally overturned. leopards. maple leaves; Tornadoes. Oddsmakers say the three teams are more likely to win the conference than Tampa Bay.

Realistically speaking, the idea of ​​a team reaching the Stanley Cup Final five times in nine years was unheard of in the NHL salary cap era.

But are you willing to bet against lightning?

There is something indescribable in this group. Something born for more than just speed and skill. Something that was forged in the five years between the 2015 Stanley Cup appearance and the 2019 first-round exit disaster in Columbus.

You solve the numbers, you can count how many old contributors have left this season, but can you rule out a team that still has a few Hall of Famers in the locker room and killing instinct?

“I still think we’re a team that will compete for the Stanley Cup at the end of the season,” said captain Stephen Stamkos. “This is the mentality we still have.

“Sure, there are a lot of factors that are likely against us in terms of losing some really good players. People will be talking, you know, the core is getting a little bit bigger. But I still think the window is open.”

Now, you know the challenges ahead. Lightning lost Ondrej Palat, who collected more post-season points than any player other than Nikita Kucherov in franchise history. They lost Ryan McDonagh, who coach John Cooper said was as valuable as any player on the roster en route to the 2021 Stanley Cup. They lost Jean Rutte, who was paired with Victor Hedman on the Blue Line.

The salary cap took away high-end talent, while also decreasing the bench.

But the truth is that much of the core group remains intact. Stamkos, Kucherov, Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and Alex Killorn have been together since the 2015 final loss to Chicago. Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, Eric Cernak and Pat Maron were here for back-to-back titles in 2020 and 21.

The team’s image may have some holes, but the culture is no different.

“If we’re healthy now, and based on our extreme limitations, I think we’ll only have four new players on the opening night roster versus where we finished last year,” said Julien Presboa, general manager. “It’s actually not that big of a turnover. And one of those players is (Vladislav) Namestnikov, who has been here for a very long time and is familiar with many of our players, coaches and our environment.”

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Yes, they are much older than the average team. Yes, they have some players returning from injuries. Yes, there is more parity than ever before in the Eastern Conference, which makes the playoff round more difficult.

But when I asked Cooper on Friday morning if the team had a different vibe because he no longer had a goal on his back, he politely disagreed.

“I don’t know if we’re going to go into the season and not have a goal (on us). I think we put in a nearly permanent game after we got to three finals in a row,” Cooper said. “You don’t sneak into an opponent. Everyone knows you’re coming.

“Yes, is our depth damaged? Did we lose some of our regulars? You’re going to miss the guys who left, but you have to embrace the new. We’re looking forward. We have a core here expecting to win. That’s what we expect to do.”

They have been among the best teams in the NHL for nearly a decade. No team has won as many games or scored as many goals in the regular season as Lightning since 2014-15. They won 84 games after the season, which is nearly double the number of any other franchise during that time.

Was Game 6 the end of an era? Was it exactly the end of the lightning story?

The curtain is getting ready to open again.

John Romano can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @romano_tbtimes.

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