Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning Find New Identity In Playoffs

The Tampa Bay Lightning have found a new identity as a resilient team in this years playoffs. I has payed off so far, with the Lightning closing out the Islanders in 5 games. (Photo: Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
Lightning Find New Identity In Playoffs
Eugene Helfrick

Identity. It’s more than a word in the world of sports. While every team has an identity, it can change in the blink of an eye. All it takes is one bad game, one injury or even just one shot for a team’s identity to change. For the Lightning, their identity change happened with 39 seconds left on the clock in Game 3 when Nikita Kucherov tied a game in which the Islanders fully outplayed the Lightning for 45 of 60 minutes. But in that one shot the Lightning went from being the injured team with no hope of success in the playoffs, to becoming something new entirely… They became the resilient team.

The Resilient Identity

Two years ago, a young Lightning team was swept out of the playoffs in quick fashion by the Montreal Canadiens. For many of the Lightning players, that was their first playoff series. They were the upstarts — the kids who weren’t supposed to be there — and they played like it. They played hard but they were lacking the experience and grind to fight their way back.

Last year a bolstered Lightning team brought the league’s top offense into the playoffs and made that into their identity. If you could slow down their scoring, you had a real chance at beating them. It wasn’t a team built for a comeback, but a team built to hit you fast and often.

Read: Conspiracy weary: Why the NHL Draft Lottery isn’t rigged

Leading up to the 2016 playoffs, the Lightning’s only identity was that of confusion and injuries. Without Stamkos and Stralman, the team that went to the Stanley Cup Final looked like a favorite for an early exit. Instead the Lightning eliminated both the Red Wings and Islanders in quick 4-1 series. They weren’t always pretty wins for the Bolts, but they were those close one goal games that the team has always struggled with in the past. The team that was once defined by their offensive prowess now found themselves identifying more with their defensive play than any other.

The New Roles

Jon Cooper has always preached defensive play, and this year really showed the fruits of this philosophy. The Lightning were 5th in goals against this season, a marked improvement from 11th one year ago. In the playoffs they have been even better at keeping scoring low, giving up less than two goals in eight of ten games this playoffs.

Even though they aren’t scoring like they used to, they haven’t needed the support. The Lightning are keeping games close and scoring at opportune times to get their victories. In short, they are playing like a whole new team… a resilient team who is not afraid of losing a star player or giving up a goal. They are a team who believes in their experience and in their new identity.

Time will tell if they are able to withstand the Eastern Conference Finals, but even to make it this far while lacking key players is an impressive feat for the Lightning.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Eugene Helfrick
@eugenehelfrick

Eugene covers the Tampa Bay Lightning for Along the Boards. He joined the team in April 2015.

More in Tampa Bay Lightning

Trophy Group Shot

NHL Photos: Awards Red Carpet

Chelsea StedryJune 24, 2016
Brent Burns with Gerry and Wyatt Nelson

NHL Photos: Awards Media Day

Chelsea StedryJune 23, 2016
It's time to wrap up the 2015-2016. What's the final verdict on the year?

Wrap-Up: Lightning Had Successful But Poorly Realized Season

Eugene HelfrickJune 6, 2016
If the Lightning want to win Game 7, Jon Cooper needs to get a complete game out of his team. Showing up with anything other than perfection to start could be the end to the Lightning’s season.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lacking Complete Game In Playoffs

Eugene HelfrickMay 26, 2016
The Lightning have hung Vasileveskiy out to dry consistently this series. The only reason the team's had a chance this series is his stellar play.

Vasilevskiy’s The Least of the Lightning’s Worries

Eugene HelfrickMay 20, 2016
The Lightning got lazy in Game 1. Can they respond in Game 2, or is this a sign of trouble for the Lightning?

Lazy Lightning Lose Game 1

Eugene HelfrickApril 29, 2016
Johnson and Mrazek have turned this playoff rivalry into a two-man show.

Wings vs Lightning Has Become A Two Man Series

Eugene HelfrickApril 19, 2016

After the Horn: Datsyuk debates departing Detroit and more

Samantha AbateApril 4, 2016
Ben Bishop

Making The Case: Why Ben Bishop Should Win The Vezina

Eugene HelfrickApril 1, 2016