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Lightning earn one banner, look to add more

The 2017-18 Atlantic Division Champions banner will be the sixth team banner to hang in AMALIE Arena

by Bryan Burns /

Inside AMALIE Arena above the net the Tampa Bay Lightning shoot at twice during games, five banners currently hang from the rafters.

There's the Stanley Cup banner from 2003-04, a season that also produced Eastern Conference Championship and Atlantic Division Championship banners. There's another one for the Eastern Conference title the 2014-15 team won on its way to the Stanley Cup Final. A fifth banner signifies the Lightning's first division title achieved in 2003 and was officially the first division, conference or Cup championship the Bolts ever obtained.

Video: Cooper on Atlantic Division title and the DevilsAfter winning 54 games and recording 113 points, both franchise records, the 2017-18 Tampa Bay Lightning finished the season atop the Atlantic to claim their third division title in franchise history to go with ones from 2003 and 2004. The Lightning will get to hang one more banner to add to its collection.

Well, one for now.

While winning the Atlantic and finishing as the top team in the Eastern Conference to earn home-ice advantage throughout at least the first three rounds of the playoffs are both worthy accomplishments, they're not the ultimate goal.

"It's good that we have that one, but it's not the one we really want," Lightning rookie Yanni Gourde said.

These Bolts have grander aspirations. They want to join the 2003-04 team and put three banners up at the end of the postseason, including the one that hangs bigger than the others and is a little easier to spot:

The Stanley Cup banner

"I think we worked really hard for (the division title). It's nice to see hard work pay off," said Tampa Bay second year pro Brayden Point, who finished tied for first in the NHL for game-winning goals (12) and matched a Lightning franchise record for most game-winning goals in a season set previously by Steven Stamkos in 2011-12. "But a whole new season begins now I guess, so a lot more hard work to go."

Tampa Bay put itself in position to win the Atlantic with a dominant shutout 4-0 performance over the Boston Bruins in the third-to-last regular season game, the Lightning knocking their closest challenger into second place. The Bolts prevailed 7-5 over Buffalo in the penultimate game to get closer but missed out on their chance to clinch outright after falling 3-2 in overtime at Carolina to close out the regular season Saturday.

A day later, Florida knocked off Boston 4-2 to hand the crown to the Bolts.

"We were happy we accomplished a goal of ours that we set about a month ago to win our division," said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who won his first division title in 10 seasons with the organization. "We knew if we won our division, we're probably going to win the conference. We were proud of that. We set that goal. It's unbelievable the way Boston's played the last three months to be able to hold them off ultimately at the end was satisfying. Like I said before, all that matters is really the home ice. We have a lot of work to do to even have that come into play."

This season's success is particularly satisfying considering the Lightning were a trendy pick to advance to the Stanley Cup Final last season but were beset by injuries and uneven play and finished a point out of the postseason, missing the playoffs for the first time in four seasons.

"This wasn't a one-game thing, this was an 82-game grind and it came down to game 82," Bolts head coach Jon Cooper said. "To have a 19-point (turnaround) from last year, that hollow, empty feeling we had last year at this time compared to how we feel now, the guys regrouped over the summer, it started in training camp and so far it's paid off. Just really happy for the guys."

The home ice that comes with finishing in the top spot in the conference is nice too, but not as important as some make it out to be according to Cooper.

"Home ice is Game 7, having that luxury of having that one at home," he said. "Is that a guarantee you're going to win that one? It isn't, but I'd rather play it at home than on the road. But having home ice, that could be gone in Game 1. We've been in series where we've lost the first games at home and we've lost the series and we've come back to win the series. Home ice is good in the sense that you get to start the playoffs at home. It's good in the sense you get Game 7 if there is one. But by no means does that mean you're going to win the series."

While home ice might not guarantee the Lightning will advance beyond their first round series against the eighth-seeded New Jersey Devils, the regular season the Bolts just completed, the finest regular season in franchise history, ensured they'll get to add at least one new accomplishment to their ever-growing collection dangling high above the heads of the 19,092 patrons inside AMALIE Arena.

Three more would look even better though.

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