It was June 7, 2004. Nearly 23,000 fans packed the St. Pete Times Forum to make the fire marshal sweat and thousands more were outside flooding the plazas on each side of the building. It was a long and winding road that led them to that point. The Tampa Bay/Calgary Flames series was loaded with passion and intensity. Every puck carrier was met with a body check from an opposing player. The teams had traded off wins in the first six games, leading to easily the best moment in sports: Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. It was also the first Game 7 in Tampa Bay sports history and the Lightning made the most of it.
“Looking back on it now we really realize how special it was,” former Lightning captain Dave Andreychuk said. “The whole playoff run was special. You watch the teams in years after and see how hard it is to get to that point. I think we’ve all realized that now. As players we feel fortunate. As fans I think you want it more and more but you realize how special that year was. When everybody talks about ’04 they look back and they're glad they were a part of it, myself included.”
Ruslan Fedotenko scored twice and Nikolai Khabibulin made 16 saves, including the game-saver in the waning moments of the third period as the Lightning skated away with a 2-1 victory against the Calgary Flames and Lord Stanley’s Cup. Suddenly the impossible seemed possible. Out of the hopeless grew hope. What once seemed unachievable had finally been achieved.
The Lightning team was a melting pot of players from different molds put together by General Manager Jay Feaster and coached by John Tortorella. There were household names like regular season most valuable player Martin St. Louis
, Vincent Lecavalier
and Brad Richards. There were grizzled veterans in the form of Andreychuk, Darryl Sydor and Tim Taylor. There were roll-players such as Ben Clymer, Chris Dingman, Andre Roy and Fedotenko. They were a team that was a sum of its parts and not individuals. Now they would walk together forever in hockey history.
At 10:50 p.m. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced “ladies and gentlemen, the Stanley Cup” and proceeded to pass it to Andreychuk, who had waited 22 NHL seasons for that moment. It showed as he lifted the Cup over his head and jumped up and down like he was a youngster.
“It runs through your head, that is something that you dream about,” Andreychuk said. “It took me a while to get there. Obviously, my teammates deserved a lot of the credit for why we were there. But it was a moment that had gone through my head lots of times. Finally, it happened.
“I don't believe you can put into words the things that go through your mind," Andreychuk said. "The years that you got knocked out in the first round. The years that you didn't make the playoffs. All the players you have played with, and obviously, my teammates. We battled all year long to get home-ice advantage, and it happened to be that we won the Stanley Cup in a seventh game in our own building. It took me 29 years of hockey to get there, and I was so proud of our guys because we got a Game 7 at home because we worked hard all year long. It was awesome.”
It was a long time coming for the Lightning. The team began play in 1992, in a building more suited for a circus than a hockey club. Tampa Bay posted a 246-440-104 record from 1992-02, despite making their first playoff appearance in 1996 and being dispatched in the first round by Philadelphia. But in 2002-03 things began to take shape.
That year Tampa Bay posted the best record in franchise history at the time with 36-25-16-5, an enormous 24-point increase from the previous season. The Lightning captured their first Southeast Division title but eventually fell to the New Jersey Devils in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. New Jersey went on to win the Stanley Cup, but in defeat Tampa Bay learned what it took to win.
“It was important,” Martin St. Louis
said. “It was a learning experience for us. They were willing to do whatever it took to win. It was important in the learning process we went through as a team.”
A little more than a year later St. Louis wore the lesson on his face as time wound down in the third period of Game 7. After being driven into the boards by Calgary’s Andrew Ference, blood ran from St. Louis’ face as he defiantly gathered himself and skated back to the bench. In a series of ups and downs it was a symbol that this time nothing could stop the Lightning from becoming champions.
It was a magical run that probably not even most Lightning fans believed was possible when training camp opened on September 11. Tampa Bay became the first team from the final wave of expansion, which began in 1991, to win the Stanley Cup. They also became the first team in the Sunbelt to hoist the Cup and the sixth team in NHL history to win a championship in their first Stanley Cup Final.
St. Louis put it best after that unbelievable Game 7.
"We're going to walk forever together as champions, no matter what happens from now on," St. Louis said.
Game 7 Line-up Where are they Now?
GAME 7 PHOTO GALLERY
|# ||POS. ||PLAYER ||2008-09 TEAM |
|4 ||C ||Lecavalier, Vincent ||Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL) |
|5 ||D ||Cullimore, Jassen ||Florida Panthers (NHL) |
|7 ||R ||Clymer, Ben ||Minsk Dynamo (KHL) |
|8 ||C ||Cibak, Martin ||Sodertalje SK (Sweden) |
|11 ||L ||Dingman, Chris ||Lightning Radio/Sun Sports Host |
|13 ||D ||Kubina, Pavel ||Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL) |
|17 ||R ||Fedotenko, Ruslan ||Pittsburgh Penguins (NHL) |
|19 ||C ||Richards, Brad ||Dallas Stars (NHL) |
|21 ||D ||Sarich, Cory ||Calgary Flames (NHL) |
|22 ||D ||Boyle, Dan ||San Jose Sharks (NHL) |
|25 ||L ||Andreychuk, Dave ||Lightning Community Representative |
|26 ||R ||St. Louis, Martin ||Tampa Bay Lightning (NHL) |
|27 ||C ||Taylor, Tim ||Retired |
|29 ||L ||Afanasenkov, Dimitry ||Moscow Dynamo (KHL) |
|33 ||L ||Modin, Fredrik ||Columbus Blue Jackets (NHL) |
|35 ||G ||Khabibulin, Nikolai ||Chicago Blackhawks (NHL) |
|44 ||D ||Pratt, Nolan ||Khabarovsk Amur (KHL) |
|47 ||G ||Grahame, John ||Omsk Avangard (KHL) |
|55 ||D ||Sydor, Darryl ||Pittsburgh Penguins/Dallas Stars (NHL) |
|61 ||L ||Stillman, Cory ||Florida Panthers (NHL) |