Monday, December 11, 2017
Tampa Bay Lightning

Fennelly: Lessons from a Lightning-less NHL playoffs

We're more than a month into the Stanley Cup playoffs. It's heaven for fans. Hockey's version of the forced march has been packed with stories, like the Nashville Predators' run to the Western Conference final, the star power of Oilers star Connor McDavid, the Caps holding off Auston Matthews and Toronto, the annual Caps fold, overtime games galore, comebacks galore, mayhem galore, galore galore.

And the Lightning is missing it.

Yes, we're all wondering if Sidney Crosby's skull can take more pounding. The Penguins superstar missed time against Washington because of concussion protocol then tumbled headfirst into the boards in a game, but never was pulled. Nice. But mostly the playoffs have been a blast.

And the Lightning is missing it.

If you want to see the Bolts, you'll find some of them playing in the world championships in Paris, France and Cologne, Germany. Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman (Sweden) are over there. So are Nikita Kucherov, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Vladislav Namestnikov (Russia). So are Brayden Point and Alex Killorn (Canada). Lightning coach Jon Cooper is running the Canadian team. Check your TV listings. I think Kucherov is on replay at 2 a.m.

But the real action is over here, and the Lightning is missing it.

That is, unless you count former Bolts like good guy Nate Thompson, now with Anaheim, which is playing Nashville, or former Lightning coach Guy Boucher, who is coaching Ottawa against Pittsburgh. Remember 2011, when Boucher took the Lightning to within a win of the Stanley Cup final in his first season as coach? Hard not to pull for our man Guy in these playoffs.

And it beats watching Hedman slice through Denmark's defense or surfing the NHL Network for Kucherov goals. Mind you, Vasilevskiy is tending up a storm, with a 4-0 record, 1.05 goals against and .952 save percentage entering play Monday. That kind of experience can't hurt.

But it still isn't here. It still isn't the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Let's not go into what happened and how it happened — again. How a Stanley Cup favorite was decimated by injuries and early complacency.

I'm just thinking about how much fun the playoffs could have been, especially an extended run, the kind the Lightning has had in recent years. Drama every other night. Stories and more stories. You can't take your eyes off a good hockey playoff run.

Here's the real problem:

Will we ever see it again around here?

I mean, from the Lightning?

There are no guarantees. None.

It's hard not to like the Lightning's chances of riding into the playoffs next season.

This is still a young, strong roster. Kucherov is a superstar. Hedman is, too. Might want to keep Jonathan Drouin, by the way. But nothing says the Lightning will ever be the team it was when it made the Stanley Cup final in 2015 or the Eastern Conference final last season.

You can never predict what will happen. Look at Steven Stamkos and his injuries. So many things can get in the way.

That's why it stings a franchise like the Lighting when it swings and misses on a season, no matter how close it comes to the playoffs.

There's no guarantee it will happen again. Or that Stamkos, a year older, will be better than worse. Or that Vasilevskiy is a playoff goalie until he's actually in the playoffs as the No. 1, though he had a nice run down the stretch.

There are no guarantees. Of anything.

Enjoy the hockey world championships, Lightning fans.

That's your postseason while you wait for a real one.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow: @mjfennelly

 
Comments
All boxes checked on Lightning home stand sweep; now, back to the road

All boxes checked on Lightning home stand sweep; now, back to the road

TAMPA — You don’t often see a coach making shadow puppets on the wall with his hands at the start of his postgame news conference, but that’s where the Lightning is these days after sweeping a four-game home stand with Saturday night’s 4-3 overtime v...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Updated game story: Lightning’s Brayden Point credits luck, opportunity for OT winner vs. Jets

Updated game story: Lightning’s Brayden Point credits luck, opportunity for OT winner vs. Jets

TAMPA — His coach says he plays every game as if he doesn’t play his best, he’s going to be sent down. That is not the case with Brayden Point, but who doesn’t want that kind of effort from a second-year player who has more than established himself i...
Published: 12/09/17

Brayden Point scores in OT to give Lightning win over Jets

TAMPA — The Jets saw Saturday’s game against the Lightning as a benchmark game, a way to measure themselves against the NHL’s top team. The Lightning had circled the game, the last of a four-game home stand."It’s going to be a big test for us," Light...
Published: 12/09/17
Lightning journal: Power-play players make me look good, Jon Cooper says

Lightning journal: Power-play players make me look good, Jon Cooper says

TAMPA — How about that Lightning power play."Coaching," coach Jon Cooper said before Saturday’s game with the Jets.He was kidding."You always look like a good coach when you can throw (Nikita) Kucherov and (Steven) Stamkos and (Victor) Hedman over th...
Published: 12/09/17

Roger Mooney’s takeaways from Saturday’s Lightning-Jets game

The game drew the hockey world’s attention because it matched the NHL’s top team against a rising team in the West. It was refreshing to see both treat it as more than just another game. The Jets saw a chance to measure themselves against the top tea...
Published: 12/09/17
Attitude adjusted, Cory Conacher focused on sticking with Lightning

Attitude adjusted, Cory Conacher focused on sticking with Lightning

TAMPA — When Cory Conacher was called up a little over a week ago, it looked like it might be for just a one-game cameo.Center Cedric Paquette had been suspended for one game for boarding, and the Lightning, otherwise healthy up front, needed a fill-...
Published: 12/09/17
Another test tonight for Lightning

Another test tonight for Lightning

Big one tonight at Amalie Arena as the Lightning finish off its four-game homestand against the visiting Jets, who at one point earlier this week were tied with the Lightning (20-6-2, 42 points) for the NHL lead in points.Since then, the Jets (17-8-4...
Published: 12/09/17
Attitude adjusted, Cory Conacher focused on sticking with Lightning

Attitude adjusted, Cory Conacher focused on sticking with Lightning

TAMPA — When Cory Conacher was called up a little over a week ago, it looked like it might be for just a one-game cameo.Center Cedric Paquette had been suspended for one game for boarding, and the Lightning, otherwise healthy up front, needed a fill-...
Published: 12/09/17
Steven Stamkos’ toughest rehab leads to his greatest hockey

Steven Stamkos’ toughest rehab leads to his greatest hockey

TAMPA — Steven Stamkos picked up steam near the Lightning blue line early in Thursday’s first period.By the time the captain reached center ice, he was seemingly at warp speed. Stamkos, 27, chasing a Vladislav Namestnikov pass off the boards, split t...
Published: 12/08/17
Lightning tops Avalanche for third straight win

Lightning tops Avalanche for third straight win

TAMPA — Peter Budaj has been a backup goaltender for around a decade.The 35-year-old is comfortable with the role and how it works. He gets it. It still doesn’t make the job easy. When you play behind the likes of Carey Price, Jonathan Quick — and no...
Published: 12/07/17
Updated: 12/08/17