The Tampa Bay Lightning hadn't won a playoff series since their 2003-2004 Stanley Cup Championship and had gone three straight years without a postseason berth until this season. Brought on by extremely inconsistent goaltenders and defense that brought down the star power generated by cornerstone forwards Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, the drought of playoff success had knocked Tampa Bay well back into the realm of mediocrity.
But, this year, the Bolts have finally been able to put it together. The 41-year-old Dwayne Roloson, acquired from the New York Islanders mid-season as a desperation option, has been fantastic since the day he arrived in Tampa Bay.
The selections of now-top forward Steven Stamkos first overall in the 2008 draft and budding defenseman Victor Hedman second overall in the 2009 draft, the acquisitions of Mattias Ohlund, Eric Brewer, Pavel Kubina and Simon Gagne to solidify the defense (and, for Gagne, the offense), and the development of other unlikely candidates like Sean Bergenheim and Teddy Purcell have transformed the Lightning into a fearsome opponent.
As expected, the much-improved Bolts cruised to the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, also managing to eliminate the division rival Carolina Hurricanes from their own playoff berth on the final day.
Since then though, Tampa Bay has become unstoppable. They won an insane 8-2 game in Pittsburgh to turn that series around, ended up taking the matchup in Game 7 and then, completely unexpectedly, swept the stacked Washington Capitals to extend their playoff winning streak to eight games heading into the next round.
What can the Lightning do to win their next two series just as they won their previous two and improve their claim to fame with two Cup championships in seven seasons? We'll take a glimpse into how they cruised so easily by the first two rounds and how they can keep that going.