The Wraparound: Lightning have become NHL’s model of consistency, success

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• The NHL’s Stanley Cup Semifinals begin on Sunday at 3 p.m. ET with the Lightning hosting the Islanders.

• Vegas beat the Colorado in Game 6 to advance to the semifinals for the third time in the first four years of the franchise existence.

This is familiar territory for the Lightning.

When they open their semifinal series against the Islanders on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC) it will be the fifth time in the past seven years that they have played in the NHL’s final four. It has been an incredible run for what has become the NHL’s most dominant organization.

Since this run began during the 2014-15 season, no team has won more regular season games (333 — Washington at 330 is the only team with more than 310 wins during that stretch), more playoff games (62 — nobody is within 20 of them), or scored more goals (1,745). In their previous four Conference Final appearances they ended up reaching two Stanley Cup Finals (losing to Chicago in six games in 2015 and beating Dallas in six games in 2020) and losing two Game 7s (Pittsburgh 2016, Washington 2018) to teams that eventually went on to win the Stanley Cup.

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Add in the 2010-11 trip to the Eastern Conference Final (another Game 7 loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion), and the Steven StamkosVictor Hedman era has now produced six conference final round appearances in 10 years.

Outside of Chicago’s run between 2008-09 and 2014-15 (also five Conference Finals in seven years, plus three Stanley Cups), it is a run that has been virtually unmatched in the salary cap era. And it does not look like a run that is about to end anytime soon.

The Lightning are trying to become just the third different organization to play in back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals in the salary cap era (Pittsburgh and Detroit — Pittsburgh has done it twice) and only the third different organization to actually win back-to-back Stanley Cups (again, Pittsburgh and Detroit) since 1990.

They have done it with a mix of stars (Stamkos, Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Andrei Vasilevskiy), an organizational pipeline of talent that has always kept the cupboards restocked around the stars, and a shrewd management team that has always found a way to add talent and keep the core of the team together.

There are currently 10 players on the roster, including all of the most significant players, signed for at least the next two seasons. Several of them are signed beyond that. And while they will eventually get hit by a salary cap crunch (they will not be able to find a Kucherov surgery situation every season) and will lose somebody to Seattle in this offseason’s expansion draft, they always have people ready to step into the lineup and make an impact.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 Second Round schedule, TV info]

It is the latter point that makes the Lightning such a long-term success. A couple of star players can only take you so far. To maintain consistent success, and to eventually get over the biggest postseason hurdles and actually win a championship, there has to be a supporting cast around them, and no team has done better at building that cast than the Lightning. Their farm system over the past seven years has produced a never-ending run of talent, from mid-late round draft picks like Point, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, Alex Killorn, and Anthony Cirelli, to undrafted players like Yanni Gourde and Alex Barre-Boulet, who might be their next find.

Whether they repeat this season or not, the fact they are such a mainstay at this point in the playoffs is an incredibly impressive run in a salary cap era And they have a chance to keep building on it.