With a 5-2 in over the Ottawa Senators on April 1, the Tampa Bay Lightning made history by becoming the third 60-win team in NHL history. The Lightning join the 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens and the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings as the only teams to accomplish the feat.
Despite the astounding feat, the Lightning’s historic season means nothing without a Stanley Cup Championship. They have not made it back to the “third” season in hockey since 2015, where they lost to the Chicago Blackhawks, and have not won it all since 2004 when they topped the Calgary Flames.
In the interim, the Lightning have been one of the most dominant teams in league. After a rough patch in the early portion of the decade, where they had a slew of high draft picks including superstars Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos, the Lightning have been a perennial playoff team in the NHL.
Much of the team’s success has come from player’s developing into elite talent after being drafted outside of the first round. Nikita Kucherov, who currently sits at an absurd 125 points through 80 games, the most since Joe Thornton had 125 in 2005-06, was drafted in the second round in 2011. The only players with higher point totals than Kucherov’s this season since 1993-94 were Mario Lemieux, 161 in 1995-96, Jaromir Jagr, 149 in 1995-96 and 127 in 1998-99, and Wayne Gretzky, 130 in 1993-1994.
Brayden Point, a third round pick in 2014, is 11th in the NHL in points as of April 3. Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson, two undrafted players, are also high on the Lightning’s scoring list and are key contributors on both sides of the puck.
The entire team is led by Jon Cooper, a former collegiate lacrosse player who worked his way up from being an assistant coach in the NAHL to where he is now.
The entire team is a story of internal development and it will ultimately go down in the Hockey Hall of Fame as the greatest of all time, but it means noting if the Lightning cannot find playoff success.
Only one of the previous 60-win teams, Montreal, won the Stanley Cup. The Red Wings were bested in the Western Conference Final by their continuous foes in the Avalanche.
The modern-day NHL is certainly different from the times when the Canadiens had their dynasty, or even the Red Wings when they had their dynasty. It is becoming increasingly difficult to find routine success and back-to-back champions are rarely seen anymore, although Pittsburgh was able to accomplish it in 2016 and 2017.
Still, the Lightning cannot lose this opportunity to have their names engraved on the Stanley Cups. The pressure will be mounting as time goes on in the playoff, especially with the team’s pedigree, but it is something that great teams must deal with.
If the Stanley Cup is not parading past the river in Tampa Bay in June, then all of the 60-win hype will mean nothing.
Kevin Kopf will be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @KMKTNF.