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Preview: Lightning begin quest for the Cup with 1st-round matchup against Blue Jackets

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — More than a decade into a stellar career, Steven Stamkos is still chasing his first Stanley Cup championship,

The Tampa Bay Lightning captain became the franchises career goals leader this season while helping the NHLs top team match the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most victories in a season with 62.

Claiming the Presidents Trophy wont mean much, though, if the Lightning cant win another 16 games in the playoffs and hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2004.

Just dont try to convince them theyre embarking on a “championship or bust” journey when they begin their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets at home on Wednesday night.

“Everyone likes talking about Stanley Cup or bust. Were focused on the Columbus Blue Jackets. Were not focused on that,” Stamkos said. “We have a job to do against a very good hockey team.”

Nevertheless, after advancing to the Eastern Conference finals three of the past four seasons but only appearing in the Stanley Cup Final once (2015), the Lightning know a season that saw Nikita Kucherov win the scoring title and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy lead the league in wins ultimately will be remembered for what happens in the playoffs. The 1995-96 Red Wings, after all, lost in the conference finals to eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado.

Tampa Bay Lightning on FOX Sports Sun [hhmc]

“Sixty-two wins doesnt guarantee that were going to move on,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. “Sixty-two wins makes us feel pretty good about ourselves, that we can play the game at a high level. But playoff series — theres health, there are matchups, there are so many different things that go into them. But have you prepared yourself for this moment? We feel we have. Where we take this from here, thats the unwritten part of this story.”

Columbus, which bolstered its roster at the trade deadline with the addition of Matt Duchene, are coached by John Tortorella, who led Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup title 15 years ago. The Blue Jackets won seven of 10 down the stretch to earn the final playoff spot in the East.

“I just think weve been a team thats found a way. Weve talked about that all year long,” Tortorella said.

“Weve had some inconsistencies through the year, had a lot of things around the team but we still found a way to get 98 points and get in,” Tortorella said. “So we feel really good about ourselves, how we had to do it. Its tough to make the playoffs, so we feel very fortunate and look forward to the opportunity.”

The Lightning swept the season series against Columbus 3-0.

HEDMAN ON THE MEND

Tampa Bay defenseman Victor Hedman, last years Norris Trophy winner, returned to practice this week after missing the last four games of the regular season with an upper body injury. Hes been out since being injured on March 30. The Lightning are encouraged by his progress, but his status for Game 1 remains uncertain.

FIRST TIME

This is the first playoff series between Tampa Bay and Columbus. The Lightning have won the last six meetings, dating to October 2017. The Blue Jackets were outscored 17-3 in three losses to the Lightning this season.

“We know theyre a good team, but we feel we are, too,” Columbus center Read More – Source

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