The Lightning first took the ice on October 7, 1992, shocking the visiting Chicago Blackhawks 7-3 with four goals by little-known Chris Kontos. The Lightning shot to the top of the Norris Division within a month before faltering to finish in last place. Their 53 points in 1992-1993, however, is one of the best showings ever by an NHL expansion team, and Brian Bradley's 42 goals gave Tampa fans optimism for the next season.
The following season was a bigger improvement, as the team picked up goalie Darren Puppa, left-wing goal scorer Petr Klima and enforcer Denis Savard.
After faltering in 1994-1995, the biggest season in team history came in 1996, when, with Bradley still leading the team in scoring, second-year Alexander Selivanov scoring 31 goals, and Roman Hamrlik (the team's first-ever draft choice in 1992) having an all-star year on defense, they made the playoffs for the first time. Although they lost the first-round series to the Flyers, it still remains a magical season for Lightning fans.
The Lightning picked up sniper Dino Cicarelli from the Detroit Red Wings that off-season, and he would not disappoint, scoring 35 goals (in addition to 30 from Chris Gratton). The Lightning looked destined for another playoff spot until Puppa and Bradley were injured and center John Cullen came down with cancer. Cullen survived, but the Lightning would barely miss the playoffs in 1997.
Most of the Lightning's stars from those first few seasons would leave the team in 1997, and most of the young guns they picked up would fail to materialize. The Lightning would go into a funk that they would not get out of for several years. They won 17 (of 82) games in 1997-1998, and 19 each in 1998-1999 and 1999-2000.
By 2003 the Lightning, led by the goaltending of Nikolai Khabibulin and the bi-line efforts of Martin St. Louis, Vincent Lecavlier and Vinnie Prospal found themselves atop the Southeast Division and in the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Coming back from a two-game deficit, they beat the Washington Capitals in a six-game series (albeit two with questionable officiating in the minds of many Capitals fans), with St. Louis scoring the series-winner in triple overtime. The Lightning could not hold their own against their second-round opponent, the New Jersey Devils, however, losing that series in five games. Nikolai Khabibulin had a 3.0 GAA in that Series before being pulled in Game 5 in favor of John Grahame.
Players of Note
Hall of Famers:
Not to be forgotten:
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