The Tampa Bay Lightning may have lost the Stanley Cup to the Chicago Blackhawks but in so doing endeared themselves even further to a growing fan base here in the unlikeliest of locales to have an ice hockey team, Tampa, Florida!
Playing the sixth and ultimately final game before a packed arena of Blackhawk fans in the Windy City, the Bolts were also playing before a packed house of 17,000 at their home rink in Tampa watching on giant Jumbotrons, entry provided free of charge by arguably the best front office in professional sports.
Each game, save the sixth encounter, was decided by one goal, so tightly played was the series. Time and again, brilliant goaltending by both Tampa’s Ben Bishop and Chicago’s Corey Crawford prevented an opponent from getting that extra goal which might have determined an earlier exit by either team. Indeed, first goals scored precisely presaged victory during the playoffs. The Hawks were 12-1 scoring first in a game while the Lightning were 3-11 when not.
After the game, announcer Pierre McGuire interviewed visibly exhausted veteran Blackhawk defenseman Brent Seabrook. Congratulating the player who had just earned his third Stanley Cup in the last six years, McGuire asked how he felt. Seabrook graciously responded, “It feels great to have had these past six wonderful seasons but that young team over there, the Lightning, the next six years are their’s.”
The average age of the Lightning is 25. Chicago is 30.
Do the math. The future is Tampa’s.
LeBron James could carry his Cleveland Cavaliers only so far. They lost in game six to Golden State, 105-97, in the NBA Finals, denying Cleveland a shot at stopping their agonizing fifty-year drought from a championship season.
But for crushing injuries to three key players, Cleveland might have toppled the Warriors. However, an inadequate supply of quality first-line players and poor foul shooting did them in. James was magnificent in extending the series to six games, averaging forty points per game, directing the actions of his entire team while contributing 43 minutes of playing time.
The Warriors had a great season, going 67-15 in the regular season behind NBA MVP Stephen Curry. The determining factor in their victory were the injuries suffered by Cleveland. Andre Iguodala, a Golden State reserve for most of the NBA Finals, was voted MVP to the surprise of many who thought if James were denied the award based on his playing on the losing side, then Curry certainly deserved it.
After the game, the Las Vegas odds-makers picked the Cleveland Cavaliers to win the 2016 NBA Championship, seemingly validating the common assertion that, at full strength, they likely would’ve won it this year.
Those same Las Vegas prognosticators have made the Chicago Black Hawks favorites to win another Stanley Cup next year with the Tampa Bay Lightning close behind.
I am not a betting man but a 2016 Lightning-Cavalier parlay looks pretty attractive to this reporter.