HENDERSON, NV — The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t want to be that team.
That team — the first one in 19 years — to lose a playoff series to the Toronto Maple Leafs, to watch the visitors celebrate on your home ice, to have a three-year streak of trips to the Stanley Cup Final blow up in six wild games.
“In my head, we should’ve won the Cup. Every year we should win the Cup, in my head. Yeah, obviously we’re pissed off. We don’t want to lose,” Lightning stud defenceman Mikhail Sergachev told 32 Thoughts: The Podcast Wednesday at the Player Media Tour.
“We don’t want to be the team that Toronto finally got to the second round, and they beat the Tampa Bay Lightning. They didn’t go through the second round. But we didn’t want to be that and lose to them.”
Despite finishing below the Maple Leafs in a top-heavy Atlantic Division, the Lightning core carried two rings and a boatload of experience into last May’s showdown and never considered themselves underdogs.
The Leafs needed three overtime victories to slay the dragon and barely edged Tampa in total goals (23-21). The series was tight, and it has left a scar.
“We’ll see when camp starts how pissed off we are. The guys are very competitive even now. Usually before camp we skate [together],” Sergachev said.
“We’ll do five drills and play a game. Usually it’s like beer-league hockey. Now, it’s intense. Some hitting, too. It’s great. Competitive. No one is going to let me walk them on the blue line. It’s not acceptable anymore.”
While the flat cap has once again sapped the Lightning of key personnel — Alex Killorn, Ross Colton, and its entire fourth line of Corey Perry, Pat Maroon and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, have moved on — the hunger is back after the club’s longest off-season since 2019.
Sergachev notes that head coach Jon Cooper is already busy making tactical adjustments for 2023-24. In recent seasons, Tampa tweaked its neutral-zone strategy and breakout methods.
A couple more wrinkles cooked up by Cooper and his staff will be unveiled come October.
“He’s evolving in the game of hockey too,” Sergachev says. “He wants to win, and we get that energy from him every camp. There’s no sitting around. It’s go, go, go.
“We’ve got new changes coming this year. I’m not going to say where. You guys will figure it out easy when we play.”