After missing the playoffs for three straight years, the Lightning made it back, and made some noise, last year. Tampa Bay knocked off Pittsburgh and Washington to reach the Eastern Conference Final before falling to Boston in seven games. It was a bitter finish, but great strides were made in the first season with Guy Boucher behind the bench and Steve Yzerman in the general manager's seat and the Lightning are poised to remain a top contender in the East for the foreseeable future under their stewardship.
2010-11 Record: 46-25-11, 103 points (2nd Southeast Division; 5th Eastern Conference; beat Pittsburgh 4-3 in first round and Washington 4-0 in second round of the playoffs, lost to Boston 4-3 in Eastern Conference Final)
Bruins record vs. Lightning: Boston holds a 43-18-9-0 edge in the all-time series, and was 3-1-0 last year. The Bruins lost 3-1 in Tampa in the first meeting, but routed the Lightning 8-1 in Boston on Dec 2, then won a pair of more dramatic victories. Mark Recchi scored with 20 seconds left for a 4-3 win in Tampa on Dec. 28 and Milan Lucic scored with 3:48 left for a 2-1 win in Boston on March 3. That drama paled in comparison to their playoff encounter, which wasn't settled until Nathan Horton scored midway through the third period of Game 7 for a 1-0 victory that sent the Bruins to the Stanley Cup Final.
When to watch: The Bruins host the Lightning in an early rematch of that conference final as Tampa Bay comes to Boston for the second game of the season on Saturday, Oct. 8. The Lightning also play in Boston on Tuesday, March 27, while the Bruins go to Tampa on Tuesday, Jan. 17 and Tuesday, March 13.
Familiar faces: Lightning forward Nate Thompson was briefly a Bruin, making it up from Providence for four games in 2006-07. Martins Karsums also spent some time in Boston before going to Tampa in the deal that brought Mark Recchi to the Bruins. Karsums spent last season in the KHL, but the Lightning retain his NHL rights. Dominic Moore (Harvard), Martin St. Louis (Vermont), Matt Gilroy (Boston University), Ryan Shannon (Darien, Conn./Boston College) and Dwayne Roloson (UMass-Lowell) all played collegiately in New England. The Lightning also have a pair of prospects whose fathers played for the Bruins, as 2009 first-round pick Carter Ashton is the son of Brent Ashton and 2007 seventh-rounder Justin Courtnall is the son of Geoff Courtnall. Lightning assistant coach Dan Lacroix also played for the Bruins in 1994-95, while owner Jeff Vinik lives in Weston, Mass., and is a minority owner of the Red Sox.
Key additions: G Mathieu Garon (free agent); D Bruno Gervais (trade with NY Islanders); D Matt Gilroy (free agent); F Alexandre Picard (free agent); F Ryan Shannon (free agent); D Richard Petiot (free agent); F Michel Ouellet (free agent); F Tom Pyatt (free agent); F Trevor Smith (free agent)
Key losses: F Simon Gagne (signed with Los Angeles); F Sean Bergenheim (signed with Florida); G Mike Smith (signed with Phoenix); D Randy Jones (signed with Winnipeg); D Mike Lundin (signed with Minnesota); D Matt Smaby (signed with Anaheim); D Mathieu Roy (free agent); F Marc Pouliot (signed with Phoenix)
Burning question: Can Dwayne Roloson continue to defy the aging process?
The Lightning's most important in-season move last year was trading for veteran netminder Dwayne Roloson, who shored up a questionable goaltending situation down the stretch and keyed Tampa's wins in the first two rounds of the playoffs. Roloson was 18-12-4 with a 2.56 GAA and .912 save percentage with Tampa, and then went 10-6 with a 2.51 GAA and a .924 save percentage in the playoffs. Those numbers were even better before he met up with the Bruins, as Roloson led the NHL with a 2.01 GAA and .941 save percentage going into that series. But Roloson turns 42 on Oct. 12, and age has to catch up to him eventually. The Lightning signed Mathieu Garon as a backup after former starter Mike Smith headed West to Phoenix, but they're banking on Roloson having at least one more big year in him.
2011-12 outlook: Tampa possesses the kind of top-end talent few teams can match, especially up front. They kept their core together by re-signing restricted free agent Steven Stamkos (45-46-91 last year) this summer, and he'll once again join Martin St. Louis (31-68-99) and Vincent Lecavalier (25-29-54) to give the Lightning a potent attack. Teddy Purcell (17-34-51), Steve Downie (10-22-32 in 57 games), Ryan Malone (14-24-38) and Dominic Moore (18-14-32) round out a deep forward corps, though Tampa did take a hit with the departure of free agent Simon Gagne and Malone is questionable for the start of the season after offseason shoulder surgery. The defense isn't as deep, but Tampa did re-sign trade deadline pickup Eric Brewer and Victor Hedman, the second overall pick in 2009, continues to progress.
Did you know? The Lightning's playoff wins over Pittsburgh and Washington were the first series Tampa had won since claiming the Cup in the final season before the owners' lockout in 2003-04. Tampa lost in the opening round in both 2006 and 2007 to Ottawa and New Jersey, respectively, then did not make the playoffs for the next three seasons.
With the bulk of the offseason moves complete and the start of another NHL season inching closer, NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will be previewing one team from each conference every day through August 26.
Saturday, August 20: Washington Capitals and Phoenix Coyotes