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The Tampa Bay Lighting's Reign of Terror Won't be Forgotten

In an era of tight Stanley Cup parity, the Tampa Bay Lightning's run the past three years was special. And while their Cup streak has come to an end, they're not done contending just yet.

TAMPA - The NHL has had only a few dynasties in its over 100-year lifespan.

The Montreal Canadiens, Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders managed to do it essentially back-to-back-to-back, but we haven't seen a major level of hockey dominance in so long.

So when the Tampa Bay Lightning made the Stanley Cup final for the third straight time this year, it was special. Win or lose, the Bolts did something no team managed to do in nearly 40 years, and did it in the NHL's most competitive era. Throw in COVID-19 and its associated stoppages and inconveniences, and there will always be something special about what the Lightning accomplished.

Sunday's loss was a changing of the guard, of sorts. Tampa's dominance was finally dethroned by a team that's embarking on its own legendary journey. Colorado's playoff run was one of the most dominant we've ever seen in the modern era with just three losses. They were built to win. Tampa, displaying a nearly identical roster to that that won last year, just didn't have enough, and there wasn't much more they could have done.

Just to recap: 11 consecutive Stanley Cup playoff series victories. An elimination-game record that was finally snapped. A number of future hall of famers showing why they're elite talents. Depth players stepping up and becoming heroes. When the world was on lockdown for nearly two years, the Lightning gave fans something to get excited about -- a level of dominance that needs to be appreciated for what it was.

Given the context of how competitive the NHL is these days, it might be a long time until we see a team go to the Cup final three years in a row -- or even more. And the Lightning are still in contention to do that again.

It's easy to hate the teams that win all the time, but winning in the salary cap era -- and especially in the flat cap era -- makes building and keeping a competitive group together is so hard. It's easier than it used to be when the salary cap was below $60 million, but as the overall salaries continue to rise, so does the pressure to ice a team at 100 percent every single night. The Lightning continued to find ways to do it, and when one star was out for an injury, someone else would come through and make up for it.

Tampa's ability to get production from inexpensive depth players is second to none. 

So few teams remain true contenders after winning the Stanley Cup. Washington and St. Louis have struggled after winning in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Pittsburgh won two in a row, only to go on and win just one round since 2017. Teams don't take opportunities like this for granted because they know how hard it is to get to the top in the first place.

Most of the team's core will return next year, with the most prominent UFA being Ondrej Palat. There's no reason to doubt the Bolts won't be a contender to go all the way again next year. With one of the best coaches -- Jon Cooper -- and one of the best GMs -- Julien Brisebois -- the club still looks in good shape for the future. They got outplayed by an Avalanche team with so much to prove after a couple of early playoff exits, and even with some banged-up talent, they found a way to beat the goliaths. The Avalanche deserve so much for credit for what they accomplished with just four losses in the entire post-season.

The Cup run was going to end at some point, and it's definitely heartbreaking to lose at home after the past two years, but they've got so much more left to play for. They've been one of the best teams over the past decade, and they're not done yet. 

The Stanley Cup is often called the hardest trophy to win in sports. If that's truly the case, that's even more reason to appreciate the back-to-back Cups -- and the potential for a few more before it's all said and done.


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