Ten years ago this week, Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards started a march through the Stanley Cup Playoffs that brought the Cup to the Tampa Bay Lightning for the first time in franchise history.
"After you win a Cup you think it's going to be the same group forever," Lecavalier said. "It's funny in hockey; things can change quickly."
None of the three has touched the Stanley Cup since then. But if one of them wants to have a chance to lift the game's most treasured prize, it starts with knocking a friend and former teammate out of the postseason.
Murphy: Goaltending may make difference
For additional insight into the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, NHL.com has enlisted the help of former NHL assistant coach Gord Murphy to break down the action. Murphy will be checking in throughout the series.
Murphy enjoyed a 14-season career as an NHL defenseman before spending seven seasons as an assistant coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets and most recently serving as an assistant coach with the Florida Panthers.
For Gord Murphy, the difference in the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers, which starts Thursday (7 p.m. ET, CNBC, TSN, RDS, CSN-PH, MSG), is goaltending, and how the Rangers' Henrik Lundqvist will be the biggest difference-maker.
"I can see it going seven games, and with New York's home-ice advantage and Lundqvist, that is the deciding factor," Murphy told NHL.com.
Lundqvist went 2-1-0 against the Flyers this season and allowed six goals on 100 shots. In 45 career games against Philadelphia he has 27 wins, four shutouts, a .916 save percentage and a 2.49 goals-against average.
Murphy, who played 14 seasons in the NHL, knows what can happen to players when a goalie has as much success against a team as Lundqvist has against the Flyers.
"Yes, he could get into the opposition's head," he said. "Players start to hesitate, over-think, trying to place their shots and become more discouraged."
Another goaltending factor working against the Flyers is the absence of Steve Mason, who will miss at least Game 1 of the series with an upper-body injury. Ray Emery will replace him.
Working in Emery's favor is his playoff experience. While Mason has started four postseason games in his NHL career, Emery has a 20-15 record in 36 games. He led the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007 and was the backup to Corey Crawford last season when the Chicago Blackhawks won the Cup.
While Emery's playoff experience certainly is a plus, the drop-off in skill level outweighs it.
"Ray Emery can provide quality goaltending and has tons of experience," Murphy said, "but I don't feel it's the same as what a No. 1 like Mason would provide."
-- Adam Kimelman
When the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers start their Eastern Conference First Round series Thursday at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, TSN, RDS), it will be Lecavalier on one side and Richards and St. Louis on the other.
Lecavalier, the first pick of the 1998 NHL Draft, arrived in the League as an 18-year-old. Richards and St. Louis joined him with the Lightning two seasons later, but took varying paths to get there.
Richards was drafted by the Lightning 63 picks after Lecavalier and played two more seasons of junior hockey. St. Louis was acquired on waivers from the Calgary Flames.
Together they provided the Lightning with a talented, young core that got to the team to the playoffs in 2003 after a six-season drought. A year later, they finished atop the Eastern Conference with 106 points.
"I think we were in 10th position [in the standings] in December," Lecavalier said. "We were out of it. So we battled through and ended up being in first place, so we were going into the playoffs with confidence."
They beat the New York Islanders in five games in the first round and then swept the Montreal Canadiens to reach the Eastern Conference Final. They needed seven games to beat the Flyers to advance to the Stanley Cup Final, and then beat the Calgary Flames in seven games to win the championship.
Richards was the top offensive performer, totaling a League-high 26 points in 23 games, and was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. St. Louis was second in scoring with 24 points in 23 games, while Lecavalier had nine goals and seven assists in 23 games.
Things changed fast for that Lightning team. The 2004-05 season was lost to the lockout, and when play resumed with the 2005-06 season, there were a number of new faces in the Lightning locker room.
"We came back and there was five, six, seven, eight guys that weren't there [when they won the Cup]," Lecavalier said.
The Lightning's Big Three, however, remained together until the 2007-08 season, when Richards was traded to the Dallas Stars. He spent four seasons in Dallas and signed with the Rangers as a free agent in July 2011.
Lecavalier and St. Louis remained teammates and regular linemates with the Lightning until the summer of 2013, when Lecavalier was bought out of his contract and signed with the Flyers. St. Louis was the last to leave, getting traded to the Rangers in March.
Now they're back together, although on different sides.
"Just being on the ice, all three of us not being on the same team and none of us in Tampa," Richards said. "… It will be weird."
Weird for sure, but not anything that could destroy the bonds of friendship the three players have forged. Lecavalier and Richards were teammates at the College of Notre Dame prep school in Wilcox, Saskatchewan, and again with the Rimouski Oceanic of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and Lecavalier and St. Louis shared an NHL locker room for 11 seasons.
"I've known Brad since he was 14 years old," Lecavalier said. "We played high school together, we played junior together, we played NHL together. Marty, I played with him for 12 years. He played against my brother when they were in college. Obviously we go way back as well."
Lecavalier said the three talk often during the offseason, but the lines of communication have been turned off.
"We were texting about the Masters," Richards said of himself and Lecavalier. "It had nothing to do with the series."
It will have everything to do with the series starting Thursday.
"He was a great teammate," St. Louis said of Lecavalier. "Obviously having him on the other side is going to be different. I'm used to it now after playing this year against him. But now it's the playoffs. It's a different animal."
NHL.com staff writer Tal Pinchevsky contributed to this report.