Nestled in the opening round playoff matchup between the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers will be a refreshing, yet in some ways, sad moment for fans of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
While those same fans will have all their attention placed on their own series against the Montreal Canadians, there will certainly be a little focus paid on the 5-6 series in the Eastern Conference.
Martin St. Louis. Vincent Lecavalier. Brad Richards.
The three superstars are 10 years removed from their remarkable Stanley Cup run, yet are all major components for their respective teams in the Flyers-Rangers series.
The trio of superstars all called Tampa Bay home at the same time between the 2000-01 season up until February 26, 2008 when Richards was dealt at the trade deadline to the Dallas Stars. During that eight year span, fans of the Lightning were blessed with the franchise’s best era – all thanks to those three skaters.
Take a look at the franchise’s record books. In the points category, the top three consists of St. Louis (953), Lecavalier (874) and Richards (489). For the time being until Steven Stamkos (426) surpasses Richards, seeing those three guys sitting atop the Lightning’s record book just goes to show how impactful each of them were to the team.
Likewise, the trio holds the top three spots in assists: St. Louis (588), Lecavalier (491) and Richards (339). If not for the incredible talent of Stamkos, the three All-Stars would hold the top spots in goals, as well. The franchise’s all-time leader, Lecavalier, netted 383 goals in his tenure while St. Louis produced 365 of his own. Richards finds himself at No. 4 behind Stamkos with 150 goals.
Stats don’t tell everything, but when looking at the big picture, seeing No. 1, 2 and 3 in almost every offensive category is very telling of how important they were to the franchise. During their 2004 Stanley Cup run, a stretch that in many ways put the trio on the national spotlight for the first time, every one of them made major contributions.
The Lightning’s incredible postseason stretch paved the way to stardom for Richards. The forward posted a playoff-best 26 points, while finishing with 12 goals – one shy of Jarome Iginla for most in the playoffs that season. In their second round matchup against the Canadians, Richards lit the lamp in overtime to win Game 3, leading to a Game 4 victory and the series sweep. In the following series against the Flyers, he continued his heroics, picking up two more game-winning goals in the 4-3 series win.
In the Stanley Cup finals, Richards registered a goal and an assist in Game 2, another game-winner in Game 4, two goals in their double-overtime thriller in Game 6 and an assist in Game 7. All of those resulted in wins and were what ultimately led to Richards winning the Conn Smythe trophy that season.
While the now 33-year-old made the biggest name for himself, considering he was more or less the third wheel of the group, St. Louis played phenomenal, as well. The small, dangerous forward flashed his playmaking ability on many occasions, none more so than his game-winning goals in Game 5 to clinch the opening series, 4-1, against the New York Islanders, and his double-overtime goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals that evened the series 3-3 to set up the Game 7.
Likewise, Lecavalier was clutch in his own way. The Canadian forward lit the lamp twice to open the second round and notched his fifth goal in that series in Game 3 to send it to overtime before Richards would score a heroic goal to win. In the finals, he certainly didn’t perform as well as he would have liked, but his three assists were definitely needed considering the series went the distance. One moment that will always stand out in that Cup Final was the hit that Lecavalier took from Calgary’s Ville Nieminen in Game 4, which resulted in a one-game suspension. Many thought he would miss a game or two; he wound up playing the next game and while he didn’t produce a point in that contest, seeing his toughness on full display was a bit of a turning point, providing a boost for his teammates in what was a hard-fought seven-game series.
It’s crazy to look back on that run 10 years ago. Even crazier is the fact that all of those players are still being relied on as they enter the playoffs. St. Louis and Richards were reunited this season when Tampa Bay made the trade for Ryan Callahan. The two will go toe-to-toe with their former teammate in Philadelphia.
The Rangers will be looking for St. Louis to get into a rhythm as the games take on more meaning despite his sluggish start to his career in the Big Apple. Similarly, they’ll be looking for Richards to continue his postseason success.
With Lecavalier, the Flyers need someone to fill the void left by Danny Briere. When the playoffs came around, Briere was the guy who every fan knew was going to perform at the highest level. While it’s unfair to expect that from Lecavalier, there’s definitely an expectation that Vinny should be able to elevate his game in crunch time, especially after his play started to improve down the stretch.
Meanwhile, the fans of Tampa Bay will be looking at these three players in a different light: reminiscing about the days No. 4, No. 19 and No. 26 carried the franchise to its first-ever Stanley Cup.