CHICAGO -- The Tampa Bay Lightning team that finished the Stanley Cup Final was not the same team that started it almost two weeks ago.
Goalie Ben Bishop played through a painful tear in his right groin, top scorer Tyler Johnson broke his right wrist early in the series, and Nikita Kucherov, who finished second on the Lightning in scoring, sustained an undisclosed injury in Game 5 that impacted him in Game 6, a 2-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks that ended Tampa Bay's season two wins short of the Stanley Cup.
"I think anybody will tell you that [if] you want to make a run like we made, the run Chicago made, you have to stay healthy," Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "That is the key. The margin of teams is so close. It's the healthy ones that seem to advance.
"I think we stayed somewhat healthy. Then down the stretch things started not going our way in that department. But we'll be the last team ever to say that's an excuse why we lost."
It may not be an excuse, but injuries were an undeniable reality for the Lightning in a close Stanley Cup Final. The only two-goal lead of the series came in Game 6, when Patrick Kane scored with 5:14 remaining for the final margin.
Bishop was injured during Game 2. He missed part of the third period as he tried to stabilize it on the fly. He played in Game 3 but was scratched from Game 4 in an attempt to get extra rest. He returned for the last two games and allowed two goals in each.
"It was one of those things where you don't want to put your team in a tough situation," Bishop said. "You want to play the game, no matter what. I barely got through Game 3 (when he made 36 saves in a 3-2 win), and I didn't want to go out there and then be gone for the rest of the series. I thought [backup Andrei Vasilevskiy] at 100 percent was a little bit of a better option [in Game 4]."
Bishop admitted his game became inefficient while he tried to compensate for a lack of mobility and recovery caused by an injury he said would have sidelined him for at least two weeks in the regular season.
Johnson, who had one goal and one assist in the Final, finished tied with Kane for the lead in playoff scoring with 23 points.
Kucherov, who had 22 points, was injured Saturday when he crashed into the goal post after flying over Chicago goalie Corey Crawford on a first-period scoring chance. Kucherov did not play the rest of Game 5, a 2-1 loss, and managed one shot in 15:00 of ice time in Game 6.
"This group isn't going to use anything as an excuse," said captain Steven Stamkos, who did not score a goal in the series. "We battled through. We felt like we had our game on track and we'll leave it at that.
"That's what playoffs are about; guys are willing to sacrifice anything to get to this point and hopefully to win. It feels like it is all for naught when you do all that stuff and put your body on the line and you sacrifice every night and then to not win it, it is such a terrible feeling."