We are getting close to the end of the “Best Teams Ever” feature on this NHL Saturday miniseries, as we move from the Midwest last week to the Florida peninsula (which will soon be underwater). The Tampa Bay Lightning entered the league with the 1992-1993 season as a cash grab for all the Northeastern retirees in the region to enjoy their hometown teams, and instead, the Lightning have won 3 Stanley Cups (2004, 2020, 2021) and lost in the Finals twice (2015, 2022).

In fact, Tampa Bay only has made 14 postseason appearances in its 30 years of existence, and all five teams below were coached by the same man: Jon Cooper. That’s pretty impressive, so you will see a lot of repeated names on the extrapolations below. Still, imagine a franchise were the team makes the championship round about 40 percent of the time it reaches the playoffs. Most fans would take that, in a heartbeat, so we hope Tampa appreciates its good fortune!

No. 5: 2014-15 Tampa Bay Lightning

With 50 wins and 108 points, this was a true grinder team that finished second in the Atlantic Division. Ranked No. 3 in the SRS overall, the Lightning boasted the No. 1 scoring offense and the No. 11 scoring defense. Tampa Bay started the playoffs with a 7-game victory over Detroit, following by a 6-game win over Montréal. Not bad for starters, but then the Lightning dropped the New York Rangers in 7 games, too, before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 6-game Finals.

Eleven players posted at least 30 points, led by centers Steven Stamkos (43G, 29A, 49 PIMs) and Tyler Johnson (29G, 43A). Goaltender Ben Bishop (40-13-5, 4 shutouts) was the main guy, but youngster Andrei Vasilevskiy (7-5-1, 1 SO) was up and coming, for sure. Bishop notched a home-ice shutout in Game 7 against Detroit, and then he did it again on the road in Game 7 against the Rangers. But after taking a 2-1 lead in the Finals, Tampa Bay lost three straight games.

No. 4: 2021-22 Tampa Bay Lightning

This team was going for a Cup three-peat, as it claimed third place in the Atlantic with a 51-23-8 record and 110 points. But the Lightning was just No. 8 in the SRS overall, with the No. 8 offense and the No. 6 defense. After eliminating Toronto in 7 games to open the playoffs, Tampa Bay then swept the Florida Panthers next. Once again, the Lightning beat the Rangers in six games to advance to the Finals—where they met the young Colorado Avalanche and lost in six games.

Stamkos (42G, 64A, 36 PIMs) again led the team in scoring, augmented by defenseman Victor Hedman (20G, 65A, 36 PIMs). Vasilevskiy (39-18-5, 2 SOs) was the top goalie, supported by veteran Brian Elliott (11-4-3, 1 SO). Down 3-2 to the Maple Leafs, Tampa Bay notched two 1-goal wins to win the series, including a road win in Game 7. By the Finals, though, the Lightning were diminished; after winning Game 1 in overtime, Colorado won Game 2 by a 7-0 score and rolled on.

No. 3: 2017-18 Tampa Bay Lightning

This incarnation of the Lightning posted a 54-23-5 record for 113 points to earn the Atlantic crown. The team was first in scoring and 13th in goal prevention, adding up to a No. 3 finish in the final SRS overall. Tampa Bay cruised through the first two rounds of the postseason, losing just once each to the New Jersey Devils and then the Boston Bruins. However, they ran into destiny, perhaps, in the Eastern Conference Finals against the eventual champion Washington Capitals.

Right wing Nikita Kucherov (39G, 61A, 42 PIMs) was the team’s dominant scorer, although Stamkos (27G, 59A, 72 PIMs) was second on the squad. Meanwhile, Vasilevskiy (44-17-3, 8 SOs) was the undisputed top netminder with 64 starts. The series against the Caps went the full seven games, as Washington won the first two games on the road. Then the Lightning came back with three straight victories. However, the Caps shutout Tampa Bay in both Games 6 and 7 to win.

No. 2: 2019-20 Tampa Bay Lightning

With Covid interrupting the season in mid-March, the Lightning ended up with a 43-21-6 record for 92 points after the summer re-start to finish second in the Atlantic. Tampa Bay was No. 1 in scoring, No. 9 in defense, and No. 2 in the SRS rankings overall. In order, the Lightning beat Columbus in 5 games, Boston in 5 games, the New York Islanders in 6 games, and the Dallas Stars in 6 games to win the Stanley Cup in a very strange circumstance: the Edmonton bubble.

Kucherov (35G, 52A, 38 PIMs), Stamkos (29G, 37A), and C Brayden Point (25G, 39A) were the top skaters, with Vasilevskiy (35-14-3, 3 SOs) owning the crease once again. The postseason was a bit of a pleasure cruise, as Vasilevskiy delivered a 1.90 GAA across the strange postseason landscape. Boston and Dallas each took early 1-0 leads in the respective series before crumbling under the Tampa Bay assault. This truly felt like a coronation after the 2019 debacle.

No. 1: 2018-19 Tampa Bay Lightning

The President’s Trophy curse (and then some) struck again to these Tampa Bay studs: the Lightning tied the then-record with 62 wins, while finishing with 128 points overall for another Atlantic Division title. Tampa Bay was No. 1 in offense, No. 5 on defense, and No. 1 in the SRS rankings. However, they ran into an unlikely buzzsaw in the first round, getting swept out of the Stanley Cup playoffs by the Columbus Blue Jackets, the worst upset in any sport’s first round ever, really.

Look at this trio’s scoring totals: Kucherov (41G, 87A, 62 PIMs), Stamkos (45G, 53A, 37 PIMs), Point (41G, 51A). As usual, Vasilevskiy (39-10-4, 6 SOs) was stellar, but his backup was pretty darn good, too: Louis Domingue (21-5-0) was a revelation. So, what happened in the playoff series? Everything fell apart as the Blue Jackets outscored the Lightning by a 19-8 combined score. Only Game 1 was even close, as Columbus just had the answer for everything Tampa Bay did/tried.