One of my favorite musicians, Frank Turner, has a song called I Still Believe. In it there’s the line, “And I still believe that everyone can find a song for every time they’ve lost and every time they’ve won.” Interpret it as you will. In this case, I’m taking a very literal stance. There is a powerful intersection between music and sports. They’re natural complements to each other. Both are rooted in events full of energy, festivities, rivalry, struggles, and recreation. Music is a powerful medium; at times it makes you want to jump to your feet and other times it can help with a myriad of feelings, such as being so close to becoming Stanley Cup Champions. Frank Turner has guided me through the past couple of days.
The Lightning played a record-tying 26 of a possible 27 playoff games this postseason. To get to the Cup Finals, they first beat the Detroit Redwings, then the Montreal Canadiens, moving on to beat the New York Rangers, clinching the Eastern Conference Finals. The Lightning then advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals to play the Chicago Blackhawks. This was after playing 82 regular season games.
That’s a lot of hockey.
Ultimately, the Blackhawks beat the Lightning in Game 6, 2-0, becoming this year's Stanley Cup champions. All six games were low-scoring ones, the first five of which were determined by only one goal. Through the first five games, the Lightning never trailed by more than a single goal. They led more often than they trailed through the series' first four games.
This is the third Stanley Cup the Chicago Blackhawks have won in the past 6 seasons. The sixth cup in franchise history.
Chicago defenseman Brent Seabrook boasted about the Lightning, saying, “They’re a great team. They’re going to be doing for the next six years what we've done for the last six.”
Though the season came to an abrupt, painful end, I still believe. They’re a young team and a team on the rise. They’re now battle-tested. They gained both confidence and experience this spring. GM Steve Yzreman has stockpiled young talent, most of which will still be there next season. “We’re extremely proud of the way our team played. The city is. Our entire organization is,” Yzreman said during yesterday's press conference. “To play at that level, with that intensity, night after night, is a really hard thing. The hard part is that you go that far and you get that close and there’s a lot of emotion and energy that goes into it. At the end of the day there’s one winner.”
Chicago said that the Lightning was the toughest team they faced. The Bolts played against Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, not to mention goaltender Corey Crawford, an elite group. In Game 6 they just had a bit more energy to carry them on to win the series.
After the loss, it was tough to watch Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and the others struggle with their emotions. I’m not sure what was more gut-wrenching — watching their dreams of hoisting the Stanley Cup quickly fade away in the third period of Game 6, or the post-game interviews. From hundreds of miles away, the agony was palpable. I fought back my own tears. The team will be down about it for a while, but they’ll heal. Eventually it'll just add fuel to the fire and make them come back even stronger next season.
A lot of Stamkos’s grief was replaced by smiles on Wednesday. While the pain of not winning will still hurt and poke at him for a bit, he smiled and reflected on what a great season the team had. “We just finished the most successful season we’ve had in a long time. It’s tough, but it was an amazing run. I couldn’t be more proud of all of the guys and proud to be the captain of this team. It was an incredible experience.” He continued on to say, “It didn’t surprise me [that there were over 17,000 fans in the arena on Monday night]. As much as I’d love to say that it was shocking, it’s not, because I know how great these people are and I know how much they support us. The city just rallied around us in the playoffs and it was amazing. I don’t think there are really many hockey cities in North America that would have had a packed house for an away game. It was special to see. There’s a little piece of every guy in this room who’s a little disappointed that we couldn’t get it done for our fans.”
Goaltender Ben Bishop’s heroic efforts were sidelined by a groin injury. Before the injury he played 27 games in a row. Give this man a high five! I commend him for being as mentally tough as he was, and there’s no doubt that he ranks among the most elite goalies. Bishop reflected on the season yesterday. “We were close, but still not quite there. Looking forward to next year. Sometimes you come out on the wrong side of the games. It doesn’t take away from a great season. We’ve seen what it takes and know how hard it is to get there. So we’re going to take that forward into next year. Kinda of crazy to think that you have to go through another 82 games to get there, but I’m looking forward to getting back out there.”
Two-thirds of the the league’s most dangerous line, referred to as the “Triplets," were also injured. Lightning center Tyler Johnson has had a broken wrist since Game 1 of the finals. In Game 5 Nikita Kucherov left early with an upper body injury and did not return to the game.
The group threw everything they had at Chicago. Unfortunately the Bolts’ goal-scoring dried up at the end. You have to give them credit; you don’t get to this point without having a talented group.
There are a million ways to direct what happened at the end. Did the team simply run out of gas? Were they lacking experience? Was it all of the injuries? Was it Stamkos’s scoring slump? It’s pretty impossible to imagine how he feels right now. He’s certainly taken the blame for not generating goals, but he didn’t lose the series by himself.
For the runners-up, it’s not always easy to return to the Stanley Cup Finals the subsequent year. The Penguins were the last team to lose in the Stanley Cup finals and then return the following season and win it all when they beat the Red Wings in seven games during the 2009 classic.
However, the Bolts are arranged to repeat as one of the NHL’s top-scoring teams. Stamkos, the ‘Triplets," Jonathan Drouin, Ryan Callahan, Alex Killorn, Victor Hedman, J.T. Brown, Ben Bishop, and all of the others are a remarkable young group with strength and determination. They will stop at nothing to hoist that cup.
This series was one of the closest in Stanley Cup finals history. The first five games were decided by one goal. One goal. Until late in the 3rd period of Game 6, neither team led by more than one goal the entire series.
Coach Jon Cooper, who has led the team since 2013, has guided and honed the team every step of the way. Earning that last victory is always the hardest. “I look back at last year and think about how we got swept and the sting and the anger. This will be a little different,” said Cooper. “There’s most definitely going to be a sting and there’s just this really empty feeling. If anything, we’re going to take out what we went through to get there. The sacrifices you make, both individually and for the team to get to this point and that’s a learning experience. We know this is really tough to do. We can’t sit here and accept, oh we’re naturally going to make the playoffs this year. It’s really hard to make the playoffs. Once you do, if you’re fortunate enough to get there, that’s what we’ve learned. We were two games short, but we know what it takes to get there. After this little time passes we can look back and say we played the Stanley Cup Final.”
It didn’t end the way most of us wanted it to, but it was a tremendous season full of win after win, new fans, old fans, and record-breaking performances. This bitter end will leave a sting for a bit, but will soon be replaced with a new season and much more opportunity for this young Lightning team.
There was a roller coaster ride of emotions for both the team and the fans over the past two months. Cooper said, “It felt like two straight months of rush hour. Your adrenaline is going all the time and it was just awesome. There comes a time when you have to get some rest and that time is now.”
The team played an impressive 26 postseason games and now know what it takes to get inches away from the biggest W of their careers. There were records set. There were injuries. There were more accomplishments than there were losses. I believe.
I believe in the team. I believe in Coach Jon Cooper. I believe in the Lightning franchise. The Lightning have been through the battle and believe in each other.
The Lightning are a franchise to be envious of. Thank you for an amazing season. WE BELIEVE.