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Martin Fennelly Columns

Ride comes up short, but these Bolts came so far

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Published:   |   Updated: March 21, 2013 at 02:37 PM
BOSTON -

And so now it is done, all done.

But until the end, they were All In.

It wasn't just a slogan. It was a heartbeat.

That will be the story of this miracle-baby Lightning season, this remarkable turnaround, which finally stopped turning heads and ran out of gas.

"We gave everything we had," Marty St. Louis said.

They lost Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals to the Boston Bruins, lost it by as little as you can lose, 1-0 in three taut, tense periods.

"We gave our all," Vinny Lecavalier said.

For more than 52 minutes, neither side budged, no daylight, no cracks, least of all from Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who went back to being ageless, who was magnificent in net, stopping a hail of Boston shots.

And then in a blink, with less than eight minutes remaining, Boston's Nathan Horton threaded the Lightning defense and put a David Krecji pass past Roloson.

And that was that. The Lightning had come up just short, one win from a shot at Stanley, one goal, one play, one moment. And it hurt.

But there was pride.

"So much," St. Louis said.

They had come so far.

"We worked from the first day of training camp, believing and believing," Lecavalier said.

These Bolts dared to be the first NHL team to win two Game 7s on the road on the way to the Cup finals. They dared to be the first NHL team to beat back five elimination games to get a chance to play for Stanley.

They dared out of nowhere, pushed by a coach who always wanted more — until they did, too.

"They've done a lot," Guy Boucher said, "more than anyone expected."

Not least of which: They made Tampa Bay a hockey town all over again.

There will be time to wonder if they should have pushed it more, though that formula worked in Game 7 against Pittsburgh. There will be time to wonder who will be back next season.

But don't forget how this bunch changed the hockey culture here after three lost seasons, evoking memories of that 2004 Cup winner.

"It was fun to be with the Lightning again," St. Louis said.

It was fun to watch the Lightning again, too.

It didn't matter that there was a new owner, or a first-time NHL general manager or a first-time NHL head coach. It didn't matter that there hadn't been playoffs around here in three long seasons, or hope.

Behold the new Ice Age.

It was late May, nearly June, and we were still talking hockey. We had forgotten what fun that is.

Now there is no more. The Bolts couldn't beat Tim Thomas with any of their 24 shots, as Boston locked down after the goal. This team always wanted more. Down 3-1 in the opening round against Pittsburgh, they wanted more. Against the Capitals, they wanted more, and it took only four games to get it.

The other day, Lecavalier was thinking about what he was doing this time a year ago.

"I was in Montreal, just trying to forget the season," he said.

Now there's one to remember and build on.

They didn't get the prize, not like 2004. They didn't go all the way.

But they were All In.

Remember that.

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