by Jon Jordan on 05/15/11 at 09:49 AM ET
At this point, I suppose there should no longer be any surprise factor to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s continued playoff success.
Not when they’ve just completed their eighth straight postseason victory to take a 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference Final.
This team has quickly evolved from having some upset potential and the golden opportunity for a deep playoff run in the wide open East into a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
At this point, you can’t look at it any other way.
Not when they have the early advantage in their own series and out west, the other conference finalists, set to kick things off tonight, have had to endure similarly grueling paths to the West Final that very well may have each squad significantly worn down already with plenty of damage left to inflict upon each other in the upcoming series.
The Lightning, a team that is truly “all in” (as their season’s official slogan dictates), have established themselves as a bona fide threat to win it all after a remarkable rally from a 3-1 deficit to Pittsburgh in round one, a stunning sweep of Washington thereafter and the early upper hand now against Boston. That they have done so as a club that has taken on the classic look of a championship team cements their case.
Methodical coaching. Solid goaltending. A responsible and effective defense corps. Tremendous scoring depth up front. Dominant special teams. Invaluable intangibles.
Really, it’s all there and maybe a little “shame on us” is in order for not recognizing as much earlier, but that – then – would have been a bit irresponsible, what with so many newcomers from the top of the organization on down and all. Now, this quickly, it is anything but, and in the grand scheme of things, while the quickness with which the Bolts have gone from the dregs of the NHL to one of its upper echelon teams was not to be expected, at this point, whatever is contained in the final chapter of their 2010-11 story, up to and including a second Stanley Cup for the franchise, cannot be considered a surprise.
Not when they continue to put forth the kind of effort and execution as they did in game one against the Bruins, making an excellent team and an all-world goaltender look awfully mundane in the process.
The stage has been set here, it seems, for far longer than just this already impressive playoff run. After all, championship teams don’t just come together spontaneously. But some might see it as such, given the speed of Tampa’s turnaround and the magnitude of what just might happen here. Instead, it began in the preseason, where the idea of learning and improving from one day to the next was instilled immediately.
Something special is indeed brewing with this bunch and the point where that all boils over is no longer so far off in the distance that it cannot be recognized.
It’s now visible, albeit with much work still to be done before it can be reached. But it is out there and the Bolts can say this morning that they are now closer to the pinnacle of the sport than anyone else. They won’t, of course, in favor of their latest rally cry: “We haven’t won anything yet.”
After all that we’ve seen, however, the Tampa Bay Lightning do have it within themselves to win everything, when all is said and done.
And if that does come to pass, at this point, how surprised can any of us honestly say we would be?
Look for more back-and-forth Q&A between TheBruinsBlog.net’s Matt Kalman and I, with reaction to last night’s game and a look ahead, later today.
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