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A Brief History on the Tampa Bay Lightning

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James Willis takes a look at the history of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

 Entering the NHL in the 1992-1993 season along with the most recent incarnation of the Ottawa Senators, the Lightning have set up their franchise in order to represent both Tampa and it’s surrounding area.

Much like the Buccaneers, Rays and Rowdies, the Lightning are a team that casts a wide net for it’s fanbase and the entire Tampa Bay surrounding area. With the nearest NHL franchise being the Florida Panthers, the Lightning have become a very popular team in their neck of the woods, despite the lengthy time it took before they found any real success.

For example, in their first season of existence, the club finished sixth in their division with just 53 points and although that’s generally a disappointing tally, little more is often expected of franchises just starting out.

The following season saw a divisional reshuffle where the Lightning ultimately finished 7th in the new Atlantic Division, although earning a higher point-tally of 71 points. That season they were helped significantly by the addition of Blackhawks legend Denis Savard, who completed his first season in the sunshine state with 18 goals and 46 points.

He made less of a contribution the following season, while the Lightning managed to finish 6th again, earning 37 points from a decreased 48 games.

It was in the 1995-1996 season that saw the Lightning making their first appearance in the post season.  The club finished with a new team high of 5th in their division and 88 points. The Lightning ultimately lost their first playoff series 4-2 to the Philadelphia Flyers.

After a lengthy drought, it wasn’t until the 2002-2003 season that they would make the playoffs again, finishing top of the Southeast Division and compiling a new team best of 93 points. They had undergone steady improvement until that point, moving up their division gradually season by season, proving themselves to be a team to watch for the future.

In the 2003 post-season, Tampa Bay managed to earn their first playoff series win, beating the Washington Capitals in the Conference quarter finals 4-2. In their first appearance in the semi-finals, the Lightning fell 4-1 to the New Jersey Devils, who went on to win the Stanley Cup that year.

The following season was the most successful so far in the team’s history. After winning their division again with an even higher tally of 106 points, the team went on to meet the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs, winning 4-1.

They went into their Conference semi final against the Montreal Canadiens high on confidence and it showed throughout the series, earning their first playoff sweep to reach the Conference finals. Matched up against the Flyers in their Conference final, the Lightning managed to push past them in 7 games, a series far closer than their semi final.

In their first ever Stanley Cup final, almost a full decade after their entrance into the league, they were pitted against the Calgary Flames. In what turned out to be a back and forth series, with neither team taking any more than a one game advantage, the Lightning showed character to come from behind three times and win the series 4-3 to take their first, and only, Stanley Cup.

Following the lockout the next season, the Lightning failed to carry the momentum forwards and fell in the first round of the playoffs in both 2006 and 2007. The closest they have come to Lord Stanley since is losing to the eventual champions Boston Bruins in the Conference finals of 2011.

The Lightning are now trying to rebuild their team around Steven Stamkos.  Despite his best efforts though, Tampa Bay still look like they have a fair bit of work to do to return to their former glory of 2004.