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Wednesday, Oct 18, 2017
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Tampa Bay Lightning

Blood, sweat and tears for Lightning… but no Cup

TAMPA - Steven Stamkos stood in front of the cameras late Friday night, a large red-stained bandage covering the right side of his nose as drips of crimson trickled out of the left side. Dwayne Roloson faced the same cameras inside the visiting locker room at TD Garden while drips of perspiration flowed steadily from his hair and the tip of his nose onto the floor. Marty St. Louis skated somberly through the line of handshakes after Tampa Bay's 1-0 loss in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals, pausing at one point to share a special moment with former University of Vermont teammate and current Boston goaltender Tim Thomas. The two embraced while exchanging a few words, and water began to well in their eyes. Those three snapshots epitomize what it took for the Lightning to reach a place few thought possible six months ago, as well as the sacrifices needed to reach Game 7 of the conference finals, only to fall one game and one goal short of competing for the Stanley Cup.
The images of Friday night's loss represent just a small sample of the blood, sweat and tears shed throughout the Lightning's magical six-week, three-round run of postseason hockey. "We always want more. That's been our motto all year (and) the guys are so resilient," first-year Lightning coach Guy Boucher said. "If people knew how banged up the guys are right now, it's incredible. There's guys playing in there, their bodies are just barely hanging on. "So, from the inside, this was the end. There was nothing left. There was nothing left in the tank. And I think it just shows that everybody wants more, players and everybody else, and that's the path we're going to take, definitely." That path is never easy, whether a team is a come-from-nowhere underdog or one laden with talent. "I think people recognize that there is a pretty good nucleus of players there," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "There's a pretty good team there, one that is exciting to watch. They compete hard and it's difficult to get to where we are today, Game 7 of the conference final, it's hard to get to. We will need a lot of hard work and a lot of good fortune to get back here again." It had been seven years since the Lightning reached this type of summit. It had been four years since the franchise even tasted the postseason. It did so this season after only one year under owner Jeff Vinik, one season under Yzerman and less than a year under Boucher, who turned a roster half-full of new players into a team willing to do whatever it took to win. And though the sting of Friday's loss likely will linger into the offseason, there will be plenty to look back on from the 2010-11 season that invariably will bring smiles and pride that hope was restored to the franchise after three futile years. "Obviously, we are all disappointed that we are not moving on, but it has been a great year for the Lightning," St. Louis said. "Everything that (went on) through the last two, three years and to turn it around so fast, I am really proud of what we have done this year." That pride was on full display throughout the playoffs. The Lightning rallied from a 3-1 opening-round deficit against Pittsburgh before winning Game 7 on the road. They quickly disposed of the top-seeded Washington Capitals in four games. They came back from a three-goal deficit in Game 4 against Boston to tie the series and eventually took it to another Game 7 on the road. All of that made dealing with Friday's loss that much more difficult. Reflection, however, will reveal exactly what this season meant and that the short-term pain almost certainly will serve as the launching point for the rebirth of the franchise and hope for the future. "It was a tremendous year, mostly for our players and how professional they were," Yzerman said. "They really were committed and unselfish, so I think we feel really good about the season. "Having said that, here we are in Game 7 and we wanted to win. … Big dreams, so it's disappointing. But we are very proud of our team and how they represented Tampa Bay, represented the organization. We are going to try to improve our team. We want to improve it through this experience for our younger players. I think we put a good product on the ice for people to follow and our team competes, so I'm hopeful that we can build off this." While the hope of creating future memories can be the building block, getting this far so fast will be something to reflect upon once the sting of the final defeat of the season wears off. "When you take a step back and look at the big picture and see how far we have come, it is pretty amazing," said Stamkos, who finished his first NHL playoffs with six goals and 13 points. "It is bittersweet. We obviously believed that we could win this game and give ourselves a chance for the Cup. You never know when you are going to get this chance. It is heartbreaking right now. To do it with this group of guys was a great run, something we'll always remember." eerlendsson@tampatrib.com(813) 259-7835
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