Despite rotating four goalies during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s inaugural season in 1992, a solid answer in net had yet to be found. Enter Darren Puppa.
Scooped up from the Toronto Maple Leafs during the 1993 NHL Expansion Draft, Puppa would join the Bolts, his third NHL team (Toronto and Buffalo). Upon joining Tampa Bay to man the crease, Puppa would become the first netminder to backstop the Bolts to their first playoff berth during the 1995-96 season.
After playing 99 games during his first two seasons with the Lightning he only recorded 36 Wins, posting a .902 SV%. Promising numbers these were not, but it was during his third season where he finally felt comfortable between the Tampa Bay pipes. He would record 29 wins along the way to the Lightning’s first appearance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For his efforts Puppa would go on to be nominated for the Vezina Trophy, ultimately losing to Washington’s Jim Carey.
A much different story emerged during the Lightning’s playoff series against the Philadelphia Flyers. Puppa would start four games of the six but would only skate away winning one, posting a 4.86 GAA and a .837 SV%.
The following season brought despair to the Lightning netminder as his back was not unable to match his desire to continue to prosper in net. He would continue to play with the Bolts but due to his chronic back injury he only lodged another 50 games for the Lightning from 1996 – 2000 where he would go on to retire mid-season.
Despite his unfortunate fall (due to injury) he was still the Lightning’s first solid Number 1 Netminder. He backstopped the team to their first playoff berth and galvanized the fan-base leading to chants of “Puppa Scoopa!” If my opinion is not enough to convince you of his Lightning Greatness, listen to Cup Winning Captain Dave Andreychuk and then just watch him action:
– Jim Courteau
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