The first rule of great story-telling is easy.
The sequel is harder.
In the sequel, the bad guy is more fierce. The terrain is less friendly. The obstacles are more perilous. There are potholes and hairpin turns, bumps and detours.
It is that way with a good movie.
It is also that way with a good hockey team.
So this is the road to the Stanley Cup? It has never been rougher.
Who knows if this Lightning team will be able to equal what the 2003-04 team did? That team achieved immortality. That team won it all.
But you do have to admit this much: This Lightning team has had a far tougher trip than that one.
Back then, the Bolts seemed to catch every break in its match-ups. Frankly, most of the better teams in the league seemed to knock each other off. Granted, a team can only beat the teams in front of it, and that Lightning team did that, but they weren’t exactly swimming with alligators.
Oh, they beat the Flyers. And Calgary played superb hockey in the post-season. But it wasn’t a gamut like this one.
That year, there were nine teams besides the Lightning that had 100-point seasons. The Lightning managed to avoid all but one of them.
In the playoffs, they beat the Islanders (eighth in their conference with 91 points), the Canadiens (seventh with 93), Philadelphia (third with 101) and Calgary (sixth in the West with 94). The Flyers were the best team, points-wise, that Lightning team played. This year, they would be third.
No one is saying they should have to give the Cup back. Not after beating Keith Primeau and Jarome Iginla. but they didn’t exactly travel Murder’s Row to win it.
Among the teams they avoided that year? Detroit, with 109 points. New Jersey, with Martin Brodeur. Boston. Toronto. Ottawa. San Jose. Vancouver. Colorado.
This year? This year, the Bolts are about to play their fourth 100-point team. They have beaten the Rangers, a 113-point team, the first-place team in the East. And Montreal, the second-place team, which had 110 points. And Detroit, the fifth-place team, which had 100. Chicago was the fourth-place team out of the West with 102 points.
The team wasn’t down 3-2 in the first round to a defensive team like Detroit. It didn’t feel a lead slipping through its fingers like it did in the second round against Montreal. It didn’t have the history that the Rangers had in Game 7s. There was no one who invited doubts like Ben Bishop or Steven Stamkos.
It’s funny how the teams mirror themselves. Tyler Johnson has 12 goals, Brad Richards and Ruslan Fedotenko had 12 in 2003-04. Nicholai Khabibulen had 5 shutouts to Bishop’s three, but Bishop has another series to play. Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier had nine goals each. Nikita Kucherov has nine. Stamkos, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn have seven. That team scored 60 goals in four rounds; this one has 55 in three.
The Lightning have had to win at Joe Louis Arena, at the Bell Centre and at Madison Square Garden. Now comes the United Center.
Every series has been about history. Every series has been about present-day stars.
So far, the Lightning has outlasted them all.
Four wins to go.