The Tampa Bay Lightning? Seriously?
A hockey team that’s only been around for three decades and has an annoying non-plural nickname and is based in a quarterback retirement community with a baseball team that plays indoors and that no one goes to watch?
Hockey? In Tampa, Florida? Where the humidity curves hockey sticks on its own and players show up to practice in January in shorts and flip-flops?
THIS is New York’s greatest current sports nemesis and arguably the greatest of all time? Not a worthier adversary such as the Montreal Canadiens or Los Angeles Dodgers or Chicago Bulls?
But here we are.
This is not a back-and-forth rivalry in the traditional Yankees-Red Sox sense, but rather a one-sided, playoff-specific, soul-crushing domination.
The Lightning’s 4-2 series victory over the Rangers in the NHL’s Eastern Conference Final was the latest in a remarkable series of playoff heartbreaks inflicted upon New York-area hockey fans by the Bolts.
In the past three seasons alone, Tampa Bay has beaten the Islanders (in six games), the Islanders (in seven) and the Rangers (in six) in the NHL semifinals.
Go back a bit further and in 2015, they ousted the Rangers (in seven) in the conference final, making it four such late-round victories over New York in eight seasons.
In 2016, the Lightning beat the Islanders in the second round and in ’17 the Devils in the first round. So that’s 6-0 against metropolitan-area teams in eight years.
In 2004, they beat the Islanders in the first round. So that’s 6-0 all-time against the Islanders and Rangers.
This is ridiculous, even if their current owner, Jeff Vinik, went to high school in the Bronx, and their original management front man and current radio analyst is former Rangers player, coach and general manager Phil Esposito, and their longtime head coach Jon Cooper went to Hofstra . . . to play lacrosse!!
All of the above led to a question that I naturally crowdsourced on Twitter before bothering to do the research work myself:
Has any team in sports history generated this sort of postseason heartbreak for more than one New York team in such a short time frame? Only non-New York teams qualify, hence the Yankees torturing the Dodgers and Giants back in the day does not count. That’s a different vibe.
Among the best answers Twitter came up with were the 1981 and ’88 Dodgers, who ousted the Yankees in the World Series, then the Mets in the NLCS. Not bad.
The Canadiens beat the Islanders in the semifinals in ’76 and ’77 and the Rangers in the Final in ’79. That is a very good one, but those series went only five, six and five games, easing the pain somewhat.
If New Jersey teams count, the Spurs beat the Knicks (1999) and Nets (2003) in the Finals, as did the Kings against the Devils (2012) and Rangers (2014).
En route to their two Cups in 1974 and ’75, the Flyers took out both the Rangers and Islanders in seven-game semifinals.
Speaking of Philadelphia, the Athletics beat the Giants in the World Series in both 1911 and ’13. (I came up with that one myself, because it is a searing childhood memory.)
We could do this all day, and surely there are other valid suggestions out there. But someone must make a ruling, and that someone is me, and I say this:
The Lightning’s recent habit of destroying the hopes and dreams of New York hockey fans is worse than anything ever visited upon multiple metropolitan-area teams.
Now Tampa Bay is on to an intriguing Final against the Avalanche – the two-time defending champs against the best team in the NHL.
If the Lightning win, they can stick one more pin in their New York hockey doll: They will become the first team since the 1980-83 Islanders to win three Cups in a row.
If they do, then try to match the Islanders’ four-peat next season, it would help if the Islanders or Rangers were the ones to stop them.