Welcome back to the Last Word on Hockey’s summer series where we look at the biggest game in team history. Each day we will be back with a new team to review. Looking at things like the lead-up, what happened, followed, and why it makes it the biggest game. The biggest game does not automatically mean a win, either. Sometimes, it can be a loss that set the franchise back massively. Sit back and enjoy as we break down all 31 teams’ most important game. The full series is found here. In this article, we take a look at the Tampa Bay Lightning biggest game.
Tampa Bay Lightning Biggest Game in Franchise History
The Tampa Bay Lightning history began in 1992. In their first full season, the new expansion team struggled to make the playoffs. The Lightning collected only 53 points, which by far wasn’t their worst result, but it was still bad. Tampa had to wait four years to make their first playoff appearance, but they lost in the first round to the Philadelphia Flyers in six games in 1996. As they struggled with multiple off-ice issues and problems, Tampa Bay went another six seasons without making the playoffs.
The start for this Tampa Bay hockey franchise certainly wasn’t the greatest one out there. The Bolts won just two playoff games during their first 10 years of existence. All that had to change. In 1998, the Lightning drafted Vincent Lecavalier. In the offseason of 2000, they signed forward Martin St. Louis. These two players helped to change the fate and destiny of this franchise.
Martin St. Louis spent three seasons with the Calgary Flames organization, also appearing in 69 games at the NHL level. In that 2000 summer, the Flames bought him out. He chose to sign with the Lightning, where he struggled from the beginning. His first campaign in Tampa Bay ended with a 40-point outing, which was pretty impressive. During that 2000-01 campaign, the Lightning hired a new head coach John Tortorella. Tortorella was an NHL assistant before that. But don’t think these changed paid off immediately. The Lightning lost 52 games that year.
The 2004 Stanley Cup Run
Who would have thought that the Lightning was poised to hoist the Stanley Cup in only three years? The times of struggles were about to stop. However, not so fast. In the 2001-02 season, the Lightning improved their point total by 10 points to 69 points. That wasn’t sufficient to make the playoffs. In 2003, the Lightning managed to win the Southeast Division with 93 points. A few weeks later, they finally tasted their first-ever Stanley Cup playoff round victory. And it wasn’t an easy job. The Lightning lost their first two home games against the Washington Capitals.
However, they managed to make a remarkable comeback and win the series in six games. They won Game 6 in Washington thanks to a triple overtime-winner by St. Louis. Then 15 years later, the Capitals made a comeback from 2-0 series deficit against John Tortorella´s Columbus Blue Jackets and also defeated the Lightning en route to their first Stanley Cup. But this is not the Capitals story. Unfortunately for the Lightning, their 2003 story ended in the second round on the shield of the New Jersey Devils.
Nevertheless, that season was a breakout-type campaign for the Bolts. In the following 2003-04 season, the Lightning won the Eastern Conference with 106 points. Martin St. Louis recorded an amazing amount of 94 points. The Lightning was, finally, the strongest candidates to win the Stanley Cup. They won their first two playoff rounds with ease. In the first round, they knocked out the New York Islanders in five games. In the second round, they swept the Montreal Canadiens. Then there were those pesky Philadelphia Flyers, who spoiled the first-ever Lightning’s playoffs in 1996.
Tampa Bay Lightning Biggest Game
The Eastern Conference Final in 2004 was like a fine tennis match. Both teams just winning a point before another team holds the service as well to tie it. The Lightning were the front-runners. But then on May 22, there was Game 7 played at St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa Bay. And it’s not the Tampa Bay Lightning biggest game. Notwithstanding, the Bolts won that game 2-1 to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. In that 2004 Stanley Cup Final, it was another evenly-played tennis match. Against the Calgary Flames. Yes, those Flames buying out Martin St. Louis in 2000.
With the series tied at two apiece, the Flames came to Tampa Bay and won Game 5. It was Oleg Saprykin with the overtime-winner. And that was a bummer for the Lightning and their hopes to finally hoist the Stanley Cup. The scenes shifted to the Pengworth Saddledome in Calgary. It was a battle of great goalscorers on both sides. St. Louis, Lecavalier or Brad Richards on the Bolts side, Jarome Iginla on the other. In that Game 6, which is the Tampa Bay Lightning biggest game, Richards opened the score. It was his only goal which won the Lightning Game 4 in that same building with a 1-0 score.
However, the Flames responded with Chris Clark tying it up at one apiece. Just seconds later, again on the power play, Richards scored another one. That was their third game in Calgary in that Final and all three of their goals were scored by Brad Richards. The Flames bounced back and tied it up with Marcus Nilson’s tally. It was a grueling hockey battle for the Stanley Cup. It was all on the line for the Flames, playing at home. Remember the guy the Flames bought out four years ago? Right, only 33 seconds into the second overtime, Martin St. Louis beat Miikka Kiprusoff to send the series back to Tampa Bay.
The 2004 Stanley Cup Aftermath
For the Lightning to go down again and again, certainly, wasn’t easy. Especially after losing Game 5 at home with the series tied. How the Bolts responded to this challenge with a big win Game 6 in Calgary in a dramatic double-overtime fashion, that’s why this should be considered as the Tampa Bay Lightning biggest game. But hey, the Stanley Cup Final was not over yet. Game 7 followed, the Lightning already won Game 7 at home in the Conference Final.
In this Stanley Cup Final finale, the Lightning got two strikes from Ruslan Fedotenko and they went up 2-0. The Flames tried to counter with the power-play tally in the middle of the third period by Craig Conroy, but it wasn’t enough. The Flames already missed their chance at home. With this Game 7 victory, the Tampa Bay Lightning won their first, and to this date, only, Stanley Cup.
Tampa Bay Lightning Biggest Game Wrap Up
The 2004-05 season didn’t take place because of a lockout. The Lightning had a chance to call themselves the reigning Stanley Cup champions for a bit longer than usual. However, their championship status ended quickly, as the Lightning lost in the first round of the 2006 Stanley Cup playoffs to the Ottawa Senators. The Lightning had to wait seven years after that 2004 Stanley Cup run to record both a 100-point regular season and to win the playoff series.
Tampa Bay made it to another Stanley Cup Final 11 years later, losing to the Chicago Blackhawks. And yes, the Blackhawks had Brad Richards in their lineup that year. Ironically, the last career game played by Martin St. Louis was Game 7 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Final with the New York Rangers. That night, the Lightning won 2-0 at Madison Square Garden.