TAMPA — Ten years ago this Saturday, the Lightning became Stanley Cup champions. They beat the odds and Calgary Flames at the Forum, 2-1. This town became one big warm and fuzzy playoff beard.
And in the middle of it were Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards — St. Louis capping an MVP season, Richards holding the Conn Smythe Trophy after being voted playoffs MVP.
St. Louis was 28. Richards was 24.
That night 10 years ago, St. Louis talked about his team.
“We’re going to walk together forever,” Marty said.
Hey, he didn’t say they’d walk together forever with us.
Tonight, thousands of miles from here, Marty St. Louis and Brad Richards. Marty and Richy, will walk into the Staples Center, put on their New York Rangers uniforms and play the Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals, their first trip to hockey’s championship series since Game 7 in 2004.
It will bring back some smiles for Lightning fans. It will be galling to others, thinking they were betrayed, that Marty wanted out of here, Lightning captain or no. The wound is so fresh.
To them, Marty is a bridge burner. In New York, he’s a savior, the inspiration, with his perseverance after losing his mother during these playoffs.
Yes, Marty in the finals might be too much too soon for some Bolts followers.
But how do you see Marty and Richy skating for the Cup again and not smile and think back to 2004?
There was Marty, undrafted by the NHL, the league leader in scoring, who delivered the Game 6 overtime winner in Calgary.
There was Richy, coming of age during the Cup run, all those game-winning goals.
Richards was the first Lightning star to get moved, a pivotal move in franchise history. He was traded to Dallas in 2008 in the name of what turned into a seemingly eternal Lightning search for a goaltender. The answer back then was Mike Smith, who wasn’t the answer here, but he was when he left for Phoenix after the 2011 season.
Not for nothing, but you can make an excellent hockey team, maybe a playoff team, out of the guys who, one way or another, have left this franchise in recent years, partly on Lightning GM Steve Yzerman’s watch.
And is Yzerman going to be able to-resign Ryan Callahan, who came over in the Marty trade?
Sure, they get two first-round draft picks for Marty, but Marty is skating for the Cup.
The Lightning seem headed in the right direction, provided goalie Ben Bishop comes back healthy and follows up on last season.
But Marty and Richy are skating for the Cup.
So is another former Bolt, Dominic Moore, a stalwart on the club’s run to the 2011 Eastern Conference finals. Moore is an inspiration, too. He was traded to San Jose in 2012. He later lost wife Katie to cancer. He spent last season away from the game, but he’s back, with the Rangers. Moore scored the only goal in the decisive Game 6 of the Eastern finals against Montreal.
It hasn’t always been easy for Brad Richards in New York since he signed that big contract before the 2011-12 season. He has taken heat for underperforming, even from his former Bolts coach and then-Rangers coach John Tortorella, who the Rangers fired after last season.
There was talk after last season that Richards’ contract was going to be bought out by the Rangers, the same way the Lightning bought out Vinny Lecavalier, another ’04 anchor. The Rangers still might do it. I’m sure Richards, who never stopped loving Tampa, would consider a return if it was an option, though I’m not sure the Lightning would make it one. But you can picture it: Richy here, Marty there. Crazy.
Tonight, they’re both in Los Angeles, skating for the Cup, again. They might bring back smiles for Bolts fans. And frowns, especially over Marty.
Those ’04 Bolts will walk together forever. But 10 years ago is still 10 years ago.
Nothing ever stays the same.