Lightning needed to ‘feel failure’ before earning Stanley Cup success

It was 531 days ago that an historic 2018-19 NHL season came to an embarrassing end for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

A 62-win, 128-point campaign was washed away in six days thanks to the Columbus Blue Jackets. An out-of-this-world year from Nikita Kucherov, which saw him win the Hart and Art Ross Trophies, ended without the trophy he really wanted.

The disbelief stretched throughout the hockey world, but hit hardest in the Lightning dressing room.

“I think if we down the road win a Stanley Cup, I’ll be able to reconcile it then,” said head coach Jon Cooper after the series.

Some franchises might have overreacted with rash personnel decisions after such a thud. Tampa general manager Julien BriseBois did not. He had faith in his core. 

“The story of these players, the story of this team, the story of this nucleus of players and of this coaching staff, it’s not over, it’s still being written,” BriseBois said after the Columbus series. “The best and most memorable chapters lie ahead.

“I don’t know when, but I know that when we do it will be all the more sweet because of the disappointments that we will have experienced along our journey to making that happen, including the disappointment that we’re feeling right now because of the outcome of this playoff series.”

[Stamkos joins Lightning for Stanley Cup celebration]

The final chapter was written Monday night as the Lightning closed out the Dallas Stars in six games to win the 2020 Stanley Cup. 

“We’re going to be Stanley Cup champs forever,” said Victor Hedman, who was voted winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy. “Our kids, our grandkids, if they look at the Stanley Cup they’re going to see our names.”

Tampa entered the 2019-20 NHL season with one goal in mind: redemption. They’d been an annual Cup contender and coming off being swept out of the playoffs, the pressure was mounting.

“It’s easy to talk about now,” Cooper said after clinching the Cup Monday night. “In a team sport, I truly believe that failure, you have to feel it before you can have success. … You wear the bumps, you wear the bruises, you wear the heartache, you wear the feelings. You wear it on your sleeve, and it keeps you up at night, but it also drives you. The fear of losing almost becomes greater than the joy of winning.”

Instead of making sweeping changes, BriseBois tinkered. The biggest names moving out last summer were J.T. Miller in a trade with Vancouver, and Anton Stralman, who was allowed to walk in free agency.

BriseBois looked to strengthen his group, not rip it apart. In came Kevin Shattenkirk, looking for a bounce-back season, and Pat Maroon, who had won the Stanley Cup with the St. Louis Blues in 2019. The roster was bolstered in February when Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow were acquired in separate trades and Zach Bogosian was signed a free agent.

[Lightning had Cup heroes beyond Conn Smythe winner Hedman]

Their quest was put on hold in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. No one knew if the NHL season would end with a champion. When play resumed in early August, the mission continued for the Lightning.

Tampa cruised through the Return to Play. They won two of their three Round-Robin games, got revenge on the Blue Jackets, and knocked out the Bruins in five games. In the Eastern Conference Final, they dispatched the Islanders in six games.

The Stars stood in their way as the final obstacle. While Dallas took Game 1 of the Cup Final, they would ultimately fall thanks to a revived Lightning power play and Tampa’s best players rising to the occasion and depth additions making an impact.

The Cup celebration on the ice at Rogers Place wasn’t what they played finished their preseason schedule one year ago Monday. They had to enjoy the moment amongst themselves inside a rink without fans. But this is why they made the sacrifice to endure the bubble life for the last two months.

Those six days in April 2019 played a role in this Stanley Cup title. It showed the Lightning that no team is invincible and that the playoff grind is not one to take lightly. They learned that lesson and reset their focus. Now this Tampa Bay Lightning group can call themselves champions.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

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    Stars sign Hintz to $67.6M, 8-year extension through 2030-31

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    FRISCO, Texas — The Dallas Stars have signed center Roope Hintz, a nearly point-a-game player in the prime of his career, to a $67.6 million, eight-year contract extension.

    “He brings so much to us,” Stars general manager Jim Nill said Tuesday. “He realizes now who he is. He came into the league three, four years ago finding his way. He started out probably as the third-line center man and very responsible, and all of a sudden he’s groomed into this No. 1 center man. You can just see the confidence that he has now.”

    The 26-year-old Hintz has 88 goals and 106 assists in his 261 games over five seasons, all with Dallas, including 139 points in 142 games since the start of the 2020-21 season.

    The Finland native set career highs with 37 goals and 35 assists last season, and has eight goals and 16 assists in 22 games this season for the Central Division-leading Stars.

    The extension takes effect after the end of this season, when Hintz could have become a restricted free agent. It goes through the 2030-31 season and has an average value of $8.45 million.

    “We wanted to do something quick if we could. We didn’t want this to drag on. It’s not easy for players during the season to live through negotiations,” Nill said. “He’s a 6-foot-3, No. 1 center man in the NHL that can skate well and has got great skills and is putting up big points, so he’s a high-demand player. He’s a hard player to find.”

    The Hintz contract is identical to the one defenseman Miro Heiskanen signed before last season. Before this season, the Stars signed restricted free agent Jason Robertson a $31 million, four-year deal, and goaltender Jake Oettinger to a $12 million, three-year deal. All three of those players are 23 years old. Robertson, a 41-goal scorer last season, leads the NHL with 19 goals in 23 games this season, and also has 17 assists.

    “We now have our core signed up,” Nill said. “Trying to get this core together, keep it together for as many years as we can, and that’s why we made this move now.”

    Devils rally from two goals down to beat Rangers 5-3

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    NEW YORK – Jack Hughes and Michael McLeod scored in the second period, Vitek Vanecek stopped 35 shots and the surging New Jersey Devils rallied from an early two-goal deficit to beat the New York Rangers 5-3 on Monday night.

    Yegor Sharangovich had two goals and Tomas Tatar also scored to help the first-place Devils win their third straight since having their 13-game winning streak snapped last week. New Jersey has won 10 straight road games and has only one loss since starting the season 3-3-0.

    The Rangers raced to a 2-0 lead just three minutes into the contest but the Devils scored twice to tie it later in the first period to tie it and then scored twice in the second period to take the lead.

    “We stayed with our game. There was a calmness on the bench,” Devils coach Lindy Ruff said of his team’s early deficit. “All I said on the bench was ‘let’s get the next goal and we’ll be back in the game.”‘

    Vanecek improved to 11-2-0 as scattered chants of “Let’s Go Devils” were heard at Madison Square Garden.

    The Devils have made the playoffs only once – in 2018 – since beating the Rangers in six games in the 2012 Eastern Conference finals.

    “It was great to hear the fans here on our side,” Devils forward Miles Wood said. “We can’t thank them enough.”

    Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Vincent Trocheck scored and Chris Kreider had two assists for the Rangers, who fell to 4-5-3 at home. Igor Shesterkin had 33 saves.

    New York also lost its second straight at home in a disheartening fashion. The Rangers squandered a 3-0 third-period lead against Edmonton on Saturday to lose 4-3. Last season, they won 27 of 41 games at the Garden.

    “When one thing goes wrong it starts to snowball on us,” Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren said. “We keep saying we have to play a full 60. You can’t keep talking about it, you have to go out and do it.”

    Rangers coach Gerard Gallant credited the young and hungry Devils with playing a superior game.

    “They put lots of offense at you, they play fast and they showed that,” Gallant said. “Tonight they were the better team.”

    Tatar narrowed the deficit to 2-1 at 7:31 of the first with a nifty high backhand shot past Shesterkin for his sixth of the season. Jesper Bratt had an assist on the play, giving him a point in 18 for the Devils’ 23 games this season.

    Sharangovich tied it with an unassisted goal with 6:35 left in the first.

    Hughes put the Devils ahead at 5:44 of the second after he gained a stride on Lindgren before sliding the puck past Shesterkin for his 12th of the season and fourth in the last two games.

    McLeod made it 4-2 at 9:40 with his third goal after Wood hit the crossbar behind Shesterkin.

    “I have to play better,” said , who was also in goal for Saturday’s meltdown against Edmonton and has lost three of his last five games.

    It was the fourth time in their last six games the Devils scored at least four times and New Jersey improved to 9-0-0 when the 21-year-old Hughes – the top overall pick by the Devils in the 2019 draft – has a goal.

    Trocheck scored his eighth goal on the power play for the Rangers with 6:42 left in the third to pull within one, but Sharangovich added an empty-netter with 16 seconds remaining to seal the win.

    The Devils improved a franchise-best 13-1-0 in November and an NHL-best 16-0-0 when leading after two periods.

    “It’s fun playing here,” Hischier said. “It feels great to beat the Rangers,?

    Panarin scored 1:20 into the game to end a personal 12-game goal-scoring drought with his sixth of the season and first since Oct. 30 at Arizona.

    Zibanejad made it 2-0 at 3:01 with his team-best 11th of the season.

    UP NEXT

    Devils: Host Nashville on Thursday night.

    Rangers: At Ottawa on Wednesday night.

    Stamkos lifts Lightning past Sabres 6-5 in OT

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. – Steven Stamkos scored his second goal of the game 2:44 into overtime to give the Tampa Bay Lightning a 6-5 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night.

    Brayden Point also had two goals, Brandon Hagel had a goal and an assist, and Corey Perry also scored for the Lightning, who rallied from two goals down in the third period to force overtime. Nikita Kucherov and Mikhail Sergachev each had three assists, and Stamkos added one for a three-point night.

    Brian Elliott had 32 saves to get the win.

    “We got the breaks at the end to pull us back, some big-time players got us back into it,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said.

    Tage Thompson had a goal and an assist, and Tyson Jost, Jeff Skinner, Jack Quinn and Dylan Cozens also scored for Buffalo. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 19 saves.

    “You allow good players a little bit of extra time and a little bit of extra space, they’re going to make plays on you,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “We had hesitation in our game and it was only the last 10 minutes.”

    In the extra period, Stamkos got the winner on a blast from the right circle for his 12th of the season.

    “There’s going to be games where we don’t deserve the two points and tonight was probably one of those, but we’ve been on the other side of that too,” Stamkos said.

    With the score tied at 3-3 to open the third period, the Sabres appeared to take control in the third with two goals for a 5-3 lead with a little more than 5 1/2 minutes remaining.

    Cozens put Buffalo ahead at 9:37, ripping a shot from the right circle under the crossbar and beating Elliott on the glove side. Skinner made it 5-3 with 5:41 remaining, finishing from a tight angle after an odd-man rush was initially stopped.

    However, the Lightning answered back with two goals 3 1/2 minutes apart.

    Stamkos scored just 16 seconds after Skinner’s goal to get the Lightning within one. Hagel tied it with a power-play goal with 2:02 remaining. With Elliott pulled to create a 6-on-4 advantage, Kucherov’s shot from the right circle was deflected by Hagel past Luukkonen.

    Point opened the scoring 7:54 into the game with a power-play goal from close range for his ninth.

    Perry made it 2-0 with 3:12 left in the first off a cross-ice pass from Stamkos.

    Thompson put Buffalo on the board with 2:06 left in the first, beating Elliott with some nifty stick-handling after forcing a turnover in front of the Tampa net.

    Quinn evened it 59 seconds later, finishing a nice feed from JJ Peterka on a quick offensive rush.

    Jost gave Buffalo a 3-2 lead midway through the second period, scoring his first goal with the Sabres after he was acquired off waivers from Minnesota on Nov. 19.

    Point tied it 3-3 on the power play with 3:34 left in the second after getting a pass from Kucherov.

    INJURY RETURNS

    Each team had one player return from a recent injury. Sabres center Rasmus Asplund returned after missing two games with an upper-body injury. Tampa Bay forward Cole Koepke returned after missing three games with an upper-body injury.

    UP NEXT

    Lightning: At Boston on Tuesday night.

    Sabres: At Detroit on Wednesday night.

    Hughes has first NHL hat trick, Devils beat Capitals 5-1

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    NEWARK, N.J. – Jack Hughes had his first career NHL hat trick, Vitek Vanecek made 38 saves against his former team and the New Jersey Devils beat the Washington Capitals 5-1 on Saturday for coach Lindy Ruff’s 800th victory.

    “It’s exciting,” Hughes said. “Couple of two-goal games in my career, so nice to cap it off with the third one tonight.”

    Ruff became the fifth NHL coach to reach the 800-victory mark. The former Buffalo player won 571 games with the Sabres from 1997-2011. He had 165 wins in five seasons with Dallas and has 64 in two-plus seasons with New Jersey.

    “It means I’ve been around a long time,” Ruff cracked. “Great to win the game. Again, you got to do a lot of right things, have good teams, and the way our team is playing I have to give them a lot of credit for getting me there.”

    The Atlantic Division-leading Devils have won two in a row after seeing their franchise-record 13-game winning streak snapped by Toronto.

    Devils captain Nico Hischier and Fabian Zetterlund also scored.

    John Carlson scored for Washington and Charlie Lindgren made 24 saves.

    “Not scoring goals, not capitalizing on our chances,” Carlson said. “We’ve had our chances, especially today, but we only walked away with one goal. We could have had five or six. It’s just not going in right now.”

    Vanecek, meanwhile, was hoping for the shutout against a familiar foe.

    “That would have been nice, but that’s hockey,” Vanecek said, “For sure you’re trying, but not every time; the win is more important.”

    Hischier opened up the scoring with his 10th goal of the season midway through the first period on a power play after Alexander Ovechkin was called for slashing.

    Hughes wrapped the puck around goalie Lindgren’s right leg and the goal post to put the Devils up 2-0 5:59 into the second period. Hughes appeared to have lost his angle on the goal when he ripped a shot off Lindgren’s face mask and into the net midway through the period for his 10th goal of the season to give New Jersey a 3-0 lead.

    The 2019 No. 1 overall draft pick added his third midway through the third period as hats rained down on the ice with New Jersey up 4-0.

    “You want to continue to play the right way, but if an opportunity comes you want to definitely put it in the back of the net with authority,” Hughes said. “So tonight, I was able to cap it off and it was nice.”

    Fabian Zetterlund capped the scoring for New Jersey late in the third period.

    NOTES: The Devils improved to 16-0-0 this season when Hischier has a point. New Jersey’s Nathan Bastain (upper body) did not return after the first period. . Ovechkin is still nine goals away from 800 and 11 from passing Gordie Howe for second place on the NHL goals list.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: At Vancouver.

    Devils: At the New York Rangers.