What did Michael Jordan once say? “To learn to succeed, you must first learn to fail.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning would do well to memorize that advice verbatim, because their future has success written all over it.
But not before they had to fail. Which they did, miserably, in being swept by the Montreal Canadiens in Round 1. Aside from an inspiring third-period comeback in Game 4, Tampa Bay never looked anywhere near Montreal’s equal. The Canadiens didn’t even need all the ugly favors they received from officials, because they dominated in every aspect of the game: goaltending, defense, scoring. They killed in Corsi close (54.0% to 46.0%) and Fenwick close (56.4% to 43.6%). Heck, the Lightning even got beat in anthem singing.
For Tampa Bay, the next step is to learn from that beatdown and get up off the mat next season. “Our thing now is we can’t be a one-hit wonder,” Cooper told the media before Game 4. “We have to make the playoffs next year. To me, it’s inexcusable if we don’t.”
They absolutely should, and then some, because the Lightning have everything going for them: the second-best player in the world (Steven Stamkos); a big, mobile No. 1 defenseman in the making (Victor Hedman); an elite, mammoth goaltender (Ben Bishop) who’s finally realizing his potential; two rookies (Ondrej Palat and Tyler Johnson) nominated for the 2014 Calder Cup Trophy; a coach (Jon Cooper) who’s won a bevy of championships from Jr. B to the American League; and a GM (Steve Yzerman) who’s proven his managerial acumen by guiding Canada to consecutive Olympic gold medals.
At an average age of just 26.9 years old, Tampa Bay is also one of the youngest teams in the NHL. And the club has chemistry. Cooper coached arguably the greatest team in AHL history with the 2011-12 Norfolk Admirals, then-AHL affiliate of the Lightning. On that team were Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, Richard Panik, Radko Gudas, Keith Aulie, Mark Barberio and Michael Kostka – many of whom played big roles on the Lightning this season and will for years to come.
Tampa Bay’s season is over, but the best for the Lightning is still to come.
Ronnie Shuker is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. Follow him on Twitter at @THNRonnieShuker.