It was a championship-winning motto. One that described the mindset of a hockey team that put all the pressure on their opponent, and if it cost them a goal with an odd man rush here or there, so be it. Our guys are better than your guys, so nine times out of 10, we'll win. Safe is Death.
That's how the Tampa Bay Lightning approached the 2004 season, taking the persona of their cantankerous coach, John Tortorella and attacking their opponents relentlessly. Of course, it helped that veteran goalie Nikolai Khabibulin was there to stop rushes that resulted from Tort's aggressive style, but it still put the onus on the opponent to stop the onslaught.
If we can learn anything from the first three games of the exhibition season, it's that Safe is Death has returned to Tampa Bay.
Guy Boucher's hockey team has forechecked relentlessly, attacking their opponents and challenging them to stop them. They used their speed to attack with the 1-3-1 forecheck, swarming to the puck like killer bees to a threatening bear.
Can it work over the course of a 82 game schedule? Who knows, but it seems pretty effective even without a Khabibulin (or even a Mike Smith) to backstop them.
Smith remains sidelined with a fractured right finger. His absence has given the Lightning a good look at Dan Ellis and Cedrick Desjardins. Desjardins was solid in his only start of the exhibition schedule, a 4-2 win over the defending Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, as he stopped 31 of 33 shots.
Ellis was solid in his first game—saving 17 of 19 in the 4-2 preseason opening win over Dallas—but struggled in his second start, a 5-2 defeat to Edmonton that stands as Tampa Bay's only preseason loss. In Ellis' defense, both starts had Tampa Bay's "B Squad" in front of him.
In the second preseason game, the only one thus far where the Lightning's regular lineup has played, Simon Gagne showed his impact already in the Tampa Bay offense by scoring a goal and adding two assists.
Steven Stamkos scored (of course) while Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier both added helpers.
Not bad for a team still trying to learn their coach's unusual style.
"A couple of times you see when we did it the right way, but other times we were all over the place, so we are still learning the system," Gagne told the Tampa Tribune. "But I think by the end of training camp we are going to be able to see what the system will do, you see when you do it the right way that a lot of good things happen by playing this way."
The stars will be back in the lineup tonight in Calgary as the Lightning play Game 4 of the preseason against the Flames.
Tampa Bay fans can definitely take heart that their franchise has returned to the roots of what got them to the playoffs and won a Stanley Cup.
Now it's up to Boucher and GM Steve Yzerman to get their young team to not just believe in the philosophy, but live it.
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