As the regular season comes to a close and we prepare for the war of attrition that is the Stanley Cup playoffs, we take a moment to reflect on the 18th campaign of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
When we began this season, General Manager Steve Yzerman advised fans to be patient with their hockey team. They were building for the long term, bringing in an untested young coach with an unusual system.
There were legitimate questions about how head coach Guy Boucher's system would perform at hockey's highest level. Would the young coach's sports psychology work with players making millions?
Then there was the matter of the make-up of the team itself. 11 players began their first seasons in Tampa Bay—nearly half the squad. Was there going to enough secondary scoring to take the pressure off superstar Steven Stamkos? Did the editions on the blue line do enough for the defense? Who would be the difference between the pipes?
Would it be enough for Tampa Bay to finally end their playoff drought?
Most of those questions became crystal clear as the Lightning put together their second best season in franchise history.
The Lightning tied the 2003-04 Stanley Cup championship team for overall victories (46) and home victories (25). Their 103 points were three points off the franchise record.
So here we go, the look back at the 2010-11 Tampa Bay Lightning season.
Record: 46-25-11, second in the SE Division, fifth in the Eastern Conference
Longest Winning Streak: six (Jan. 18-Feb. 1st)
Longest Losing Streak: four (twice)
Most Valuable Player: Martin St. Louis, Forward
Marty Mouse has been mighty again this season for the Tampa Bay Lightning as the 35-year-old Quebec native seems to just get better with age. For the sixth time in the past seven seasons, the littlest Lightning put up over 80 points, finishing second in the league with 99 points.
St. Louis scored 31 goals, seven of which were game winners and took to head coach Guy Boucher's system like a duck to water.
On countless nights, he could be seen hurling his 5'8" frame into players twice his size. St. Louis remains one of the team leaders and one of the few members of the hockey team that remembers what its like to raise the Stanley Cup in a Lightning sweater.
Most Improved Player: Teddy Purcell, Forward
While Nate Thompson, Dominick Moore and Victor Hedman all deserved consideration for this award, Teddy Purcell had a career year in his first full season with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Purcell, who had scored just 11 goals and 34 points in his career coming into this season, beat both those numbers this year putting up 17 goals and 34 assists for 51 points - all career highs.
Purcell has played on every line for Tampa Bay this season, using his speed and laser shot to really put together a solid two-way game.
Most Disappointing Player: Dan Ellis, goaltender
In the offseason, the Tampa Bay Lightning believed they had found a netminder who could take them back to the playoffs in 2010-11. Instead, the Lightning found they still had a huge hole between the pipes in Dan Ellis.
After winning the job from fellow disappointment Mike Smith, Ellis struggled and eventually lost Tampa Bay's starting gig. Ellis was 13-7-6 with a 2.93 GAA and a .889 save percentage. After acquiring Dwayne Roloson on New Year's Day, Tampa Bay dumped Ellis at the trade deadline.
Rookie of the year: Dana Tyrell, Forward
Tyrell completed his first full season with the big club alternating between the third and fourth lines. A speedy player, he put up six goals and 15 points in 78 games, helping the Lightning shutdown their opponents' top lines.
Best Game of the Season: Tampa Bay 5, Vancouver 4 (OT)
The Lightning delivered the eventual President's Trophy winners a rare home defeat and earned their first franchise victory in Vancouver by beating the Canucks 5-4 in overtime. In a game that featured a galaxy of stars, the teams exchanged goals in the first period, then Tampa Bay struck three times in the second period to take a 4-2 lead into the third period.
Not to be denied, Henrik Sedin joined his twin brother Daniel in scoring goals in this contest by pulling the Canucks within one. Keith Ballard would eventually send the game into overtime.
Steven Stamkos would score his second goal of the game 34 seconds into overtime to give Tampa Bay the big road win.
Worst Game of the Season: Pittsburgh 8, Tampa Bay 1
If they still used film instead of digital, the Lightning would have probably burned the footage of the debacle on January 5th.
An exhausted Dwayne Roloson, who was coming off a shutout in his Lightning debut the night before, seemingly had no gas for the Penguins, who took advantage by scoring five times in the first twenty minutes on the 41-year-old netminder.
Chris Kunitz had a hat trick for the Penguins.
Of course, while they lit up the scoreboard, Pittsburgh fans may look at this one as the worst game of the season as well—as this was the game that ended the regular season for superstar Sidney Crosby.
Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman hit Crosby on what at the time seemed to be a fairly innocent slam behind the goal. It wasn't a dirty play, just one that happens a million times in hockey, but it was enough to put Crosby on the shelf with a concussion.
What we'll remember: The playoffs. Its been a long three years since the Tampa Bay Lightning found themselves battling for Eastern Conference positioning for the greatest postseason in sports. Whether it goes four games or 28, we'll savor every second of the pulse-pounding action.
What we'd like to forget: The streaks of the Lightning. While it was enjoyable to see the Tampa Bay Lightning return to the top half of the Conference—one of the most frustrating things to deal with this season were the peaks and valleys the team went threw this season. Five-game win streaks followed by four-game skids, then back on track with another four game hot streak. If there's one thing the Lightning couldn't find, it's consistency. Tampa Bay finished the regular season winning seven of their last eight games. We can only hope that this isn't a setup for a four-game losing skid in the playoffs.
Outlook for the First Round: We'll break down the series in more detail tomorrow but I do believe the Lightning will win their first-round showdown against the Sidney-less Pittsburgh Penguins.