Monday, 15 June 2015

It's Hard to Reach the Top of the Mountain

Over the last few days, lots of analysts have noted that the Tampa Bay Lightning are "built to get back here again" over the next few years.  Even if the Bolts don't win tonight, commentators say, it's not like they won't have a chance to win it all next year, or the year after that, or the year after that.

I hate that narrative.

Neither the Lightning nor their fans should be thinking like that in advance of tonight's Game Six at the United Center.  That sort of talk understates just how difficult it is to make a deep playoff run, and specifically a run to the Stanley Cup Final.

There are lots of good teams in the NHL.  Only two make it this far, and only one wins it all.  Would anyone have been shocked if the New York Rangers made it to the Final this year?  Nope.  Or the Montreal Canadiens?  Probably not.  What about the St. Louis Blues out in the West?  No shock there.  Or the Anaheim Ducks?  Lots of people expected them to make it.  The point is, there's a fairly big handful of teams that have a chance to make it here every year.  To get here is something special, and not something to be taken for granted.

Consider the Vancouver Canucks for a moment.  They were the undisputed best team in hockey during the 2010-11 season.  They ran roughshod over the rest of the league during the regular season, and through three rounds of the playoffs.  Unfortunately for them, the Boston Bruins took control of things in the Final.  Vancouver lost in Game Seven at Rogers Arena.  It was a disappointing loss, but the general consensus was that Vancouver's core was good enough to get back to the top.  People expected the Canucks to rebound and return to hockey's biggest stage.

Things were looking up for that team to start 2011-12.  Again, they dominated the regular season.  Maybe they weren't quite as good as they had been the year prior, but they were still excellent.  They took home their second straight Presidents' Trophy, and thus went into the postseason as the league's number one seed.  "This is our year," many Canucks fans said.  Then they met the Los Angeles Kings in Round One.  The eighth seeded Kings, who just snuck into the playoffs, upset the Presidents' Trophy winner and ran all the way to a Stanley Cup championship.  Just like that, Vancouver's run was over.

Since that moment, first round exits have become the new norm for the Canucks.  Their core is getting too old, and they're far from competitive.  Heading into 2015-16, they have absolutely no chance of winning a Cup.  They aren't good enough, and they really should go through a rebuild.

Now, let me be clear about one thing: The 2014-15 Tampa Bay Lightning are not the 2010-11 Vancouver Canucks.  They're a lot younger.  That probably bodes well for any potential return bid, but it still doesn't guarantee a thing.  The point of the comparison was to highlight that it's really tough to get back to the top of the hockey world, even if the league expects it to happen.  There are too many good teams out there, too much turnover, and too many things that can happen during an 82-plus-game year.

As such, the Bolts need to make tonight count.  Anything less than a 60-minute effort isn't good enough.  Win or lose, the Lightning need to be able to leave the ice knowing that they gave it their all.  This could be their one chance.  We can all be proud of what they've accomplished this season, but let's not pretend that it's a given that they'll get back here.

Thanks for reading.

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