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A brief history: Tampa Bay Lightning

by Michael Stainkamp
The Tampa Bay Lightning joined the NHL in 1992. The team name came from Tampa's status as the "Lightning Capital of North America."

The Lightning thrilled the home fans by routing Chicago 7-3 in the first game in franchise history, but finished their debut season with just 53 points. They finally made the playoffs in 1995-96, their fourth season, by edging out the defending Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils for the last spot in the Eastern Conference. Even though they lost in the first round to the Flyers, their April 23, 1996, playoff game played in the Thunderdome (now Tropicana Field) drew 28,183 fans, still the largest indoor crowd in NHL history.

This was the highlight of hockey in Tampa for a while, as the Bolts then missed the playoffs for six consecutive seasons.

But with a nucleus that included Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis, Dan Boyle and goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin, the Lightning finished with 2002-03 with 93 points and won their first division title. They went on to beat the Washington Capitals in six games in the first round -- the first playoff series win in franchise history -- but fell to the eventual Stanley Cup champs, the Devils, in the second round.

But that was just a warm-up for 2003-04. The Lightning topped the Eastern Conference with 106 points, the first 100-point season in franchise history. They beat the Islanders in the first round, the Canadiens in the second round, defeated the Flyers to win the Eastern Conference title and capped it off by rallying to beat Calgary and win the Stanley Cup. Ruslan Fedotenko scored both goals in the 2-1 win in Game 7, while Brad Richards won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. Just three years after losing 50 games, the Bolts won the Stanley Cup in their 12th season as a part of the NHL.

The Lightning lost in the first round in each of the next two seasons and have missed the postseason in each of the last three. Newly hired GM Steve Yzerman has been busy this summer adding to a core of talent that includes Lecavalier, St. Louis and 2008 No. 1 pick Steven Stamkos, a 51-goal scorer in his second NHL season in an effort to end the playoff drought.
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