A better swan song could not have been written for the Tampa Bay Lightning’s last home game of the season. The game itself had all the trappings of a blockbuster Hollywood movie; from Stamkos‘ thrilling 60 goal mark chase, to the triumphant return of a long-gone hero in Dwayne Roloson and the truly surprising play of newcomer J.T. Brown, to the gripping suspense of whether or not we will once again play spoiler to another team’s playoff hopes. The game was quite the spectacle and it was a tremendous joy to watch.
With less then two minutes left in regulation, it was a 2-2 tilt between the Bolts and Caps. Stamkos had been shadowed fairly well throughout the match by Washington’s Wideman, who was always there to thwart the Super Sniper trying to make plays. But 18:57 into the third, Stamkos won position on Wideman in front of the net, and banged in a rebound in true heroic fashion. Just over a minute later, with one second left in the game, Stamkos fought hard to shoot a knuckle-puck from his knees into an empty net, sealing the victory for the Bolts and notching his 58th tally in the process. It is truly amazing watching him play as relentlessly as he does and when it matters most. As of now Stamkos has an NHL high 12 Game-Winning-Goals and of course just recently set the NHL Single Season OT Goal record with 5. Stamkos is not just good, he’s great.
Now, flashback a little over a year ago to January 2011, when it was announced the Lightning had acquired Netminder Dwayne Roloson from the Isles. His first appearance, wearing Tampa Colors, was against the Capitals and in what may very well be his last, was also against the Capitals. Fitting bookends for a Roli Goalie that has done so much for this team between the pipes. Granted this year has not been his best campaign, but he has never given up on himself or the team. Let us not forget, Roloson was the one that backstopped the Bolts to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last season. If we can continue to cheer for Khabibulin when he visits Tampa from Edmonton, we certainly must celebrate Roloson through the end of and after this tough year. He, much like Martin St. Louis, is the embodiment of being relentless, continuing to work hard to improve and being determined to help out his team in some form or fashion, no matter what the current situation is. It’s time for Tampa Bay fans to be just as classy as the Lightning, and recognize the achievements and victories this “Old Man” has brought to us fans.
From the Old Man to the New Kid on Channelside, J.T. Brown. Wow does this kid look good for having little time to acquaint himself with Coach Guy Boucher’s system. In his first two NHL starts, straight from the University of Minnesota – Duluth, Brown has so far shown he was worth burning a year of his contract to have him start playing now. Hopefully he continues this spectacular level of play after all that adrenaline coursing through his veins runs dry. The kid has got great “hockey-smarts,” instinctively putting himself in positions to make key plays or to take a shot (what a quick release this kid has!). The other thing that truly impresses me about Brown, is his willingness to play the two-way game (something not generally seen in new forwards), he’s already blocked shots and has been pretty nasty on the back-check. I cannot wait to see him in action next year once he has more time with the system and is a little more NHL seasoned.
After all was said and done, the 60 minutes played by our Bolts in Blue showed how truly remarkable and resilient this team is. Even during the most dire of circumstances through the season, the Bolts kept their heads up and battled their way to make it to last night. And on that night they put on what has got to be one of their most memorable performances of the season for us, their fans.
With the tweaking to come during the offseason in addition to what will probably be one of the biggest goalie hunts conducted by the Lightning Organization, I am more than excited for next season. However, the Lightning still have a three game tour of Canada ahead of them to finish out the season. The Bolts do not have a chance of making the playoffs, but they still have the chance to finish strong, to be relentless in the face of adversity. So let us be the thunder, let them hear us in Montreal, Toronto and Winnipeg. We may be out of playoff contention, but we are far from being done.
- Jim Courteau
Follow me on Twitter @BlackSheepJim