The Tampa Bay Lightning had won 11 of 12 Stanley Cup Playoff rounds entering the postseason in 2023. They followed up that successful run with a loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. After playing in the final game of the season three years in a row, Tampa was out of the playoffs after six games, and that might have been the best possible outcome for future success.
Early playoff exit might be the best thing that happened to the Lightning
The Tampa Bay Lightning believed they were going to win the Stanley Cup last year, of course you would expect to win every year when you go to the finals three years in a row. But the fact of the matter is the Lightning crawled their way to the finish line of the regular season last year.
Last March Jon Cooper had to bench Steven Stamkos, Nikita Zadorov and Brayden Pointin the third period of a 5-3 loss to the Sabres, but it was not just one bad game for the Lightning.
From the start of March till the end of the regular season, the Lightning went 9-11-2. They had a point percentage of .455, 23rd in the league. The Lightning had the worst point percentage of teams to make the playoffs during that stretch.
The Bolts expected to just walk into the playoffs and instantly make their way to the Stanley Cup Final, and after an early exit, maybe they will play the right way from the start this season.
The Atlantic Division is not going to get easier for the Lightning. The Bruins, Bolts, Panthers and Maple Leafs all still believe they are playoff teams, but so do the Sabres, Red Wings and Senators. Just making the playoffs is not going to be a cakewalk this year.
Tampa Bay should be fired up and want to show they are still the best team in the league, and hopefully this year they will play like that championship team for all 82 games.
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