The 101-point season was quite impressive for a team that finished near the bottom of the NHL standings a year ago. After an up-and-down stretch out of the Olympic break, the Lightning looked poised to make a deep playoff run. Montreal had other plans.
Tampa Bay limped into the opening-round series and faltered quickly. It's only natural to ask the question of what if. Here are the Lightning's biggest what ifs from 2013-14.
What if Ben Bishop Was Healthy?
The Boston Bruins wouldn't be the same without Tuukka Rask. The New York Rangers wouldn't be the same without Henrik Lundqvist. The Los Angeles Kings wouldn't be the same without Jonathan Quick. And the Tampa Bay Lightning weren't the same without Ben Bishop.
Bishop is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy and was a huge part of the Lightning's success this season. He set a franchise record for wins with 37. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to continue his performance in the postseason.
Plagued by upper-body injuries, Bishop left the April 8 game against Toronto and couldn't return for the playoffs. The team felt his loss immediately, and Montreal capitalized.
What if he was healthy for the playoffs?
What if Kristers Gudlevskis Started Game 4?
As they say, hindsight is 20/20. Looking back at the Lightning's series against Montreal, the Lightning were in trouble early. Anders Lindback had struggled in the first three games, and the Bolts had their backs against the wall.
It's a tough spot for any coach. Pull your starter for the game, and you run the risk of damaging his confidence for the rest of the series. The entire series would then rest squarely on an unproven backup goaltender. Or, you stick with the No. 1 and risk the series a different way.
Kristers Gudlevskis gave the Lightning a shot when he took over, but it was too late to recover. He gave up one goal on 17 shots in over 30 minutes of time. Even after a valiant effort to tie the game, Montreal responded and sent the Bolts packing.
Gudlevskis' performance in Game 4 would have been enough to get his team a win. What if he would have started?
What if Steven Stamkos Stayed Healthy?
After a 101-point season and a No. 2 seed in the Atlantic Division, fans can overlook the fact that the Bolts played months of the season without their best player. When Steven Stamkos broke his leg on November 11 against Boston, it must have been hard to keep things positive.
Anchored by an outstanding rookie class and strong goaltending, the Lightning managed to not only survive but thrive without Stamkos. The collapse in the playoffs can't be attributed to Stamkos' absence. What if he was healthy all season, though?
Could the Lightning have avoided Montreal and had a better matchup in the first round? Would playing against Detroit or Columbus instead of a red-hot Carey Price and the Canadiens have had the Lightning still in the hunt for the Stanley Cup?
What if Martin St. Louis made the initial Olympic Roster?
Martin St. Louis is a legend in Tampa Bay. He scored some big goals for the Bolts in their 2003-04 Stanley Cup season and has provided countless memories for the community. Unfortunately, this year's memories sung a different tune.
After being left off the initial Team Canada Olympic roster—headed by Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman—St. Louis was unhappy. He requested a trade out of Tampa Bay. St. Louis eventually went to Sochi, but the damage was already done.
He left Tampa Bay on unfortunate terms, but his new team is still fighting for the Cup. The Lightning are not. The Bolts' acquisition of Ryan Callahan for St. Louis appeared to pay dividends for both teams.
Callahan is a great fit in Tampa Bay. Likewise for St. Louis in New York. But Callahan's postseason performance was awful: four games, zero points and a minus-two rating.
What was the biggest "what if" for Tampa Bay this season?
Meanwhile, St. Louis has two goals, four assists and an even rating as the Rangers fight with Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
If Martin St. Louis made the initial Olympic roster, would he still be in Tampa Bay? And would Tampa Bay still be in the playoff hunt?