LeBrun: Watch out Leafs and Bruins, ’cause here comes the lightning (again)


TORONTO – Here comes the lightning.


But shhh. They don’t want anyone to notice.

I mean, it shouldn’t surprise any of us. But in the Atlantic section that saw Bruins The roar of the gates with no signs of slowing down maple leaves Kick off November without looking back, it’s as if the Stanley Cup Finalists finally decided to raise their collective hands from the back row and say, “Hey, don’t forget us!”

Five straight wins and winners in eight of their past 10 games, the Bolts arrived in Toronto on Tuesday night looking like a cup contender.

“It was definitely an under-the-radar season, but I think last year was similar too, right? We’re just doing our thing,” the Tampa captain said. Stephen Stamkos he said on Monday after training at Scotiabank Arena. “We know we have that core here that’s been here for a while, has been through a lot and can navigate the waters of an 82-game schedule and know how to respond.”

There is such a keel about Lightning. For many teams, there are fires to put out each month as they overcome their 82-game highs and lows. The smart Bulldogs have that knowledge that allows them to focus on their game in the playoffs.

“The one thing for us I tell the guys all the time: It doesn’t matter where we end up. Just about ready. You run your season that way,” Lightning head coach John Cooper said Monday. We go into every game and want to win it, but we know that’s not going to happen.

“The guys have done a great job making our way to the playoffs, and when we get there, we’re ready to go.”

So here they are again, it seems. Whether people get tired of them or not.

It seemed like much of the hockey world was ready to turn the page on the Lightning after losing the Stanley Cup Final to the… Colorado Last season, ending Tampa Bay’s bid for a three-peat. Is it lightning tired with fans and the media? Or is it the idea of ​​the salary cap continuing to drive players away from them year after year that creates an expectation that they will start to slip?

Whatever the case, there hasn’t been much chatter about the Bolts this season. But I mean, they’re not going anywhere. They certainly had a shot at a fourth straight trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

“Everyone is looking for something new, right? For someone new to win or someone new to come in,” Cooper said. That’s what we’re looking for.”

In the era of the salary cap, they are the closest thing to a breed right now. Four Stanley Cup Finals in eight years, two Cup wins, six conference Finals in eight seasons — and only steady competition for nearly a decade.

“It’s tough,” Cooper continued. “You can get to the top, but to be able to stay there, what these guys did was amazing.

“Now, it’s easy for the fans or the media to fall asleep on it and say, ‘It’s just lightning again,’ I suppose. But that’s not how we feel. We get a lot of satisfaction from plowing through people and getting to the top and staying there. Because it’s hard to do.” And you never know when it’ll be gone. So cherish it when you’re here. And when you get the chance to be there, make sure of it.”

Notice how Cooper talks about what “those people” did. He wants his players to take full credit for what the last several years have produced. Let’s not kid ourselves: Cooper is one of, if not the, best trainers out there the Best coach in NHL. It’s just an important part of what happened.

But what’s also clear with this Lightning team is that no one lives in the past. There’s a hunger in this dressing room that equals some teams that haven’t won anything.

Tampa Bay isn’t ready to turn the page and pass the baton to the Maple Leafs or anyone else.

Despite losing players year after year due to the salary cap, the Screws are finding a way to stay near the top.

“Listen, we’re definitely a different team than we were in the past,” Stamkos said. “But that’s no excuse for throwing in the towel. Guys step up. We’ve had players come in and play really well if we’ve had the chance to take them up a notch. And we’ve got the goal we know here.”

And no doubt Lightning General Manager Julien BriseBois will soon be announcing to the world that he has no cap room and doubts he will be active before the trade deadline – then goes out and adds an important piece or two. That’s what he does.

“Our management is doing an amazing job of navigating the small wiggle room that is in the lid to improve our team,” said Stamkos. “As players, that’s all you can ask of management.

“Julien has done a great job. It falls to us as players to put ourselves in a position to do that, and you never know. But we think we’re still one of the best teams in the league.”

The road in the Atlantic will, again, be arduous. The first-place Bruins and second-place Leafs look legit. The Lightning had to go seven games with the Leafs in the opening round last spring, and won Game 7 here in Toronto.

Bruins, leaves and nails. What a three-team battle is shaping up, come springtime. And let’s see if it is leopards He can get back to things.

“Obviously, Boston just took off from the start of the year. They’ve been on a roll,” the Lightning Center said Anthony Cirelli He said. “The Leafs, too. They were ahead of us. We’re in a tough division. There are a lot of teams that are sneaking up, so you have to keep up or even better. But you just have to get in, right?”

Such is life in the Atlantic, where Florida won the Presidents Trophy last season. It’s an evil division.

“I mean, it’s been like that since this division was created,” Stamkos said. “I remember standing in that hallway when I talked about how every year Boston plays Toronto in the first round and two top five teams, or two top 10 teams meet in the first round. Last year is no different either (with Tampa Bay-Toronto). “It’s the beauty of our sport. Sometimes it’s just qualifiers, right? Sometimes it’s better against some teams than against others.”

“We could have been sitting there last year, we went in the first round in Game 7, and Toronto could have gone to the Cup Final. I mean, that’s the truth of the sport.”

Stephen, don’t do it to Liv fans, man.

His point is that equivalence is real. But so is the playoff experience.

“We know we have a group that if we continue to play well in the qualifiers, we have a lot of experience that we can sit down and draw on in those moments,” Stamkos added.

What’s also clear is that despite back-to-back cup victories in 2020 and 2021 and the euphoria that came with that, the decline that also came with losing to Avs last June continues to trouble this Lightning team.

Which created a new hunger.

“When you get there, you want to win so bad,” the veteran blueliner said Victor Hedman Monday said. “We played against an incredible team in Colorado. But for us, at the end of the day — look at it for me: I’m 32, we have this incredible team, and we can’t let this opportunity pass up.”

Can’t let this chance go. Think about this statement for a moment. From someone who’s been with an existing Lightning Core from day one. The fact that Hedman looks at things that way, and doesn’t want to let go of the opportunity available, I mean, there are teams in the NHL trying to put two playoff wins together, not to mention what Tampa has already done.

But that’s what makes great teams great. The will to sacrifice and pay the price. Hunger to win. You don’t really understand everything until you’re at the top.

“Just going through what we’ve been through, winning those two (cups), and the feeling you get; you want to keep being there,” Cirelli echoed. “This group has real motivation, especially the way it finished last year. We’re excited and hungry to get back out there. We know it’s a long way to go, there’s a lot of hockey left in the regular season. We just have to keep building our game.”

Dynasty? I’ve always found that players don’t think about these things until they’ve retired for a long time.

“It’s almost one of those things that you know is out there and other people are talking about it and you don’t really bring it up in the room,” Stamkos said. Until you’re there. Being last year for the third year in a row, there was some chatter in the media. We were asked before the series against Colorado, ‘If you guys win, that word definitely fits.’ You think about it a little bit, but like you said When you live in the moment, it’s hard to look at.”

But …

“We definitely think we can continue to do more running with this group,” Stamkos added. “I said it after we lost Game 6 last year: Who said we were done with this substance?”

Hopefully nobody.

(Top photo: Mike Ehrman/Getty Images)

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