TAMPA, Fla – Brian Engblom sat in the lower bowl of Amalie Arena with the Tampa Bay Lightning’s two Stanley Cup banners to his right and the team looking to add a third skate to the ice in front of him.
Reflecting on his days playing for the Canadiens and winning the Stanley Cup in the late 1970s, the Tampa Bay television analyst sees the Lightning makings develop a championship culture much like Montreal has since. nearly a century.
“They have already done it,” Engblom said on Sunday. “You’re supposed to win it all, and creating that kind of environment is tough and takes time, but they’re already there.”
The Lightning will face the Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final on Monday, a series pitting the defending champions against the NHL’s most decorated franchise. Tampa Bay is aiming for a third title since he started playing in 1993, the last year the Canadiens – or any team from Canada – won the Cup, making it a clash between winners of old. school and a model of modern hockey success.
“A lot of people have to do a lot of good work to build a good organization,” said Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois, who has cut his teeth with the Canadiens. “Both organizations have very strong ownership, passionate fan bases, a good coach, a solid support staff and ultimately very good players, and that’s why we’re going to face each other in the Stanley Cup final this year. “
Montreal is looking to hang a 25th Cup banner on the rafters of the Bell Center with a team that has a lot of similarities to the 2015 Tampa Bay squad. It was the last time these teams met in a playoff series, and it was in the second round.
The Lightning is now a grizzled group with a handful of heartbreaking losses and the 2020 bubble triumph in the rearview mirror.
“It took a long time to get there: grief in 2015 to get to the final and lose, then 2016 to go to Game 7 against Pitt, losing that one, 2018 against Barry Trotz (and the Washington Capitals ) – he beat us in Game 7 in this building, Columbus Heartbreak in 2019, ”coach Jon Cooper said. “It was all the building blocks to get here.”
Until this unlikely run led by goaltender Carey Price, the Canadiens hadn’t won a round since losing to the Lightning six years ago. Qualifying for the playoffs just twice in the previous five seasons has generated a lot of turnover, so this young Montreal team mirrors the Tampa Bay teams of the recent past.
And the Lightning has learned over time how to translate the lessons of loss into victory.
“For us now, we’ve been in a lot of those series,” said veteran forward Alex Killorn. “Just by going through that, you learn a ton. You learn how in the playoffs you have to be even bowling. You need to realize that things are not always going to turn out the way you want them to. You might get a bad call, it might happen, it might happen. … And I think the older you get, the more experience you might have.
BriseBois’s experience in the Montreal organization as a young executive helped make the Lightning an eternal competitor. With an office next to the Jean Béliveau Hall of Fame, BriseBois said he “learned a lot more than I contributed” and soaked up generations of Habs success.
After working under the long-time leadership of Tampa Bay general manager Steve Yzerman, Brisebois took over in 2018. Their combined knowledge of the Habs and the Detroit Red Wings has become the model in a much more non-traditional market in Florida.
The Lightning’s 66 playoff wins and 333 regular season wins since 2015 are the biggest in the NHL at this time.
“These days it’s hard to keep everyone once you win,” said Luke Richardson, a former Tampa Bay defenseman who replaces the Canadiens coach while Dominique Ducharme is isolated for at least the two. first matches of the final. “Contracts are increasing and you are in an era of salary caps. But they did it one way or another. And it’s a strong team. And it’s not just a one-year team. They are a solid team built to win for a while.
We weren’t expecting Montreal to win so soon, although this is the kind of postseason GM Marc Bergevin envisioned when he traded to defenseman Shea Weber in 2016. The Canadiens could be ahead of schedule, just like the Lightning were when they lost to Chicago in the 2015 final, but it took a bit of tinkering on the part of management to get there.
“He’s done a lot of good things, filled a few holes for us this offseason, and it’s paying off right now,” Weber said. “There were tough times, there were good times, but that’s part of the journey and part of the story. It has been a good race so far and I hope it continues here.
As Montreal looks to end the 28-year-old organization and Canada Cup drought, the Lightning aim to join the 2016 and 2017 Pittsburgh Penguins as the only consecutive champions since the start of the salary cap in 2005. Tampa Bay won the last title before the cap was put in place, which Engblom says is part of the process of developing a winning franchise.
“You have to win somewhere along the way to really get people interested in a whole new franchise,” he said. “This is the part you can’t compare. Montreal has been around for 100 years, so that’s the big difference. It takes time.”
With Cooper as coach, Andrei Vasilevskiy goalie, Steven Stamkos leading, Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov producing and Victor Hedman controlling games, the time has now come for the Lightning to solidify their place as hockey’s gold standard. . They are four wins away.
“We know what is expected of us and each other’s roles and we expect a lot from each other,” Hedman said. “We hold ourselves accountable, and it has proven successful so far. One more obstacle before one of these teams hoists the Cup. But we are very happy to be back here once again.
Wawrow reported from Montreal.