BY LESLIE MONTEIRO
(Photo credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
This can’t be easy for any New York hockey fan to say. Certainly for me after watching my Islanders get denied by the Tampa Bay Lightning of the Stanley Cup Final twice in the last two seasons. It will always hurt no matter what.
I understand the pain Rangers fans are dealing with. They thought their hockey team was en route to the championship round, but the Lightning ruined the script by winning four straight to win the series in six games Saturday night. So Rangers fans can’t say their team ended the Lightning’s excellent run. It’s a feeling they have to deal with all summer long and maybe beyond.
Devils fans saw the Lightning beat their team in the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and since then, they have not seen their team in the playoffs.
Yes, the Lightning indeed have become worthy of our contempt.
But they also should be worthy of our admiration. For them to be in the Stanley Cup Final for the third straight year in a salary cap league is impressive. For them to win 85 playoff games since 2015 is where you appreciate them when you realize how hard it is for the body and mind to log all these minutes.
If they three-peat, they should join the dynasty teams of the Islanders and Edmonton Oilers for greatness. They are right up there as the greatest hockey teams we have seen in this league.
All anyone can do is be impressed with what they did again. No one can take away from what they have done.
This is a team that knows how to win. Think the Yankees of the 90s or the Bulls of the 90s. This is a team that knows how to win with skill and grit. This is a team that boasts players who sacrifice their offensive game for the common good of blocking shots and playing defense. This is a team that puts in the dirty work of being a champion. This is a team that has the skill, depth, talent and intelligence that has made them a perennial Stanley Cup finalist.
The Lightning demonstrated all of that against the Rangers by winning four straight to win the series after everyone thought they were finished when they trailed 2-0 in the Eastern Conference finals.
Rangers fans should have known better to think this would be a sweep. It was clear right there they were ignorant about the Lightning. It was also clear they were not true hockey fans since if they were, they would know that team is way too good to roll over for anyone. They are getting what they deserved.
The Lightning boast stars that know how to shine in the playoffs such as Victor Hedman, Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat and Andrei Vasilevskiy.
They feature future Hall of Famers in Stamkos, Kuhcerov, Hedman and Vasilevskiy.
They have efficient players who know how to do the dirty work in Patrick Maroon, Alex Killorn, Anthony Cirelli, Riley Nash and Mikhail Sergachev.
They have a goaltender in Vasilevskiy who elevates his game in the playoffs, especially when the series unfolds. Just watching him deny the Rangers after every shot in Game 6 was beautiful to watch.
In the last eight series-clinching wins, Vasilevskiy posted six shutouts with an 0.25 GAA and .991 save percentage. He allowed two goals on 221 shots. He was the reason why the Islanders could not beat the Lightning in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last season.
He is up there with Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur as best goaltenders ever. Devils fans may not want to hear this, but he may be better than Brodeur when all is said and done.
It’s a throwback to what Vasilevsky is doing. In today’s NHL, a team doesn’t need great goaltending to win in the playoffs or a championship. It wasn’t like that back in the day. That’s another reason to appreciate the Lightning right there. To see a goaltender steal a game and psyched the other team out is fun to watch.
The Lightning should be celebrated nationally, but it’s not since it’s hockey. Hockey might as well be soccer or the WNBA or tennis. It does not sell to the media and the American public. That’s too bad because hockey is an entertaining sport and guys put in so much work and sacrifice their bodies to achieve the ultimate goal, which is winning the Stanley Cup.
It’s not easy to win three championships in a row, let alone one. The Lightning have created a good story in the Stanley Cup Final. If there is a reason to watch the Final, it’s them. Can they get it done or can the Avalanche end the Lightning’s terror of their respective sport?
Here’s another thing we can like about the Lightning: It will make Rangers fans, Devils fans and Islanders fans join forces to root against them being denied of a three-peat.
This writer can be reached on Twitter at: @LeslieMonteiro6
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