The Tampa Bay Lightning failed to make the playoffs the last four years but now find themselves on their way to the Eastern Conference Finals. They are making the most of their opportunity, completing a sweep of the top ranked Washington Capitals Wednesday, after a 5-3 victory in front of 20,835 fans at the St. Pete Times Forum.
It is the first time since 2004 that the Lightning have made it to the conference finals, the year they beat the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games and eventually went on to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup. With last nights win, the Bolts have won seven straight playoff games and await the winner of the Boston-Philadelphia series.
The Lightning have made it to the conference finals thanks to not only a hot goaltender but also because of their young, inexperienced offense who has been able to score goals in bunches. They have built up a solid young core in recent years through trades and draft picks in recent years and it is paying off.
Their most impressive of the core is former first overall pick, 21-year-old Steven Stamkos. Though he has cooled down in the playoffs, managing just six points in 11 games, Stamkos has managed 186 points over the last two regular seasons. So, it is only a matter of time before he makes the most of hockey's biggest stage.
A more under the radar youngster is 24-year-old Steve Downie, who leads the NHL playoffs in plus-minus. Downie is tied for second in playoff points with 12 and has been a nice compliment on the Lightning's first line. But let's not forget the two veterans who were just a couple of youngsters when they won the cup in 2004 – Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier.
Lecavalier has long been a leader for the team, not only on the score card but also in the locker room. He currently has 12 points this postseason one short of the lead which is held by his teammate, St. Louis. St. Louis has continued to light the lamp at key times in the playoffs and has managed to help make the players around him even better.
But to win in the playoffs, there is one piece every team needs and that is a hot goaltender, which the Lightning have managed to find in an unlikely place.
Just over five months ago Dwayne Roloson was a 41-year-old back up goalie for the New York Islanders and now he is a front runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy, awarded to the playoffs top performer. Roloson has a lengthy resume which includes a 2006 loss in the Stanley Cup Finals but now he wants one last chance. He currently leads the postseason in save percentage, wins, and goals-against-average. The only question is whether or not he can maintain his strong play for another two rounds.
They have the right pieces and have already taken out two proven playoff powerhouses but does this fifth seed have what it takes to bring home its second Stanley Cup?
Not this year.
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