TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Tampa Bay isn’t content with being one of the NHL’s best teams.
Three months after falling short in a bid to become the first NHL club in 40 years to win three straight Stanley Cup titles, the Lightning entered training camp eager to begin the quest to reclaim the crown they relinquished to the Colorado Avalanche.
“We’re getting ready for the grind to go get it back,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, entering his 14th NHL season, said.
“There’s going to the doubters for sure, but this group has always found a way,” Stamkos added. “It’s going to be difficult. It’s not going to be easy. We saw that last year, but we’ve risen to that challenge every time, and that’s the expectation.”
Stamkos is not alone in believing the window for success remains open.
Despite trading veteran Ryan McDonagh because of salary-cap restraints and losing postseason standout Ondrej Palat to free agency, the talented core of Stamkos, Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Victor Hedman return — and aren't exhibiting signs of complacency.
The team came within two victories of becoming the first to win three consecutive titles since the New York Islanders claimed four straight in the early 1980s.
“It sticks with you a while. It still stings a bit. Three in a row would have been unbelievable,” said veteran forward Pat Maroon, who was seeking a fourth straight title, since he won with the St. Louis Blues before joining the Lightning for their back-to-back championship run.
“I know we were two games shy, but nobody has any anything to hang their head about,” coach Jon Cooper said.
“But even when you’ve won before, it doesn’t change the sting,” Cooper added, noting the hunger for success is still there. “That’s a good sign for us.”
Vasilevskiy is one of the top goaltenders in the league, Kucherov, Point, Stamkos are potent scorers, and Hedman anchors a defense that been one of the keys to a decade-long stretch of success under Cooper, who’s been with several key players since they were young minor league prospects. The departure of McDonagh and Palat will create more opportunities for defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, and forwards Nick Paul and Brandon Hagel.
Although much of the roster looks familiar, there are some new faces in the locker room this season beginning with forward Vladislav Namestnikov. He was with the Lightning for four years from 2014 to 2018, then rejoined his old team after playing last season with the Detroit Red Wings and Dallas Stars. Defenseman Philippe Myers and forward Grant Mismash were obtained in the trade that sent McDonagh to Nashville, while defensemen Ian Cole and Haydn Fleury joined the team in free agency.
Point, the Lightning’s leading goal scorer during their 2020 and 2021 championship runs, said he’s healthy after missing much of last season’s playoffs due to a torn quad muscle. He was injured during Game 7 of Tampa Bay’s first-round victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs and didn’t play again until the Cup Final. He appeared in Game 1 and 2 against the Avalanche before sitting out the rest of the series.
Hurricane Ian forced the Lightning to relocate a portion of training camp to Nashville, and the defending Eastern Conference champions will spend most of October away from home, too, with the opening-month schedule calling for them to play seven of nine games on the road. The journey begins Oct. 11 at the New York Rangers.
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Fred Goodall, The Associated Press