The Tampa Bay Lightning have been the best team in hockey from nearly start to finish this NHL season and now they have their first piece of hardware to show for it. On Monday night, the Bolts locked up the Presidents' Trophy as regular-season champions for the first time.
The Lightning defeated the Arizona Coyotes 4-1 at Amalie Arena to also clinch the Atlantic Division crown and the top Eastern Conference seed. The Lightning needed only 73 games to clinch the league's best record -- the second-fastest clinch in league history. (The 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings only needed 71 games.)
The win over Arizona was No. 56 for Tampa Bay, bringing the team's point total to 116 points with nine games remaining. As we head into the home stretch of the season, the Lightning still have a chance to top the league's all-time regular season point record held by the 1976-1977 Montreal Canadiens, who finished with 132 points in 80 games.
Those who believe in curses and external forces may see the Presidents' Trophy as a bad omen for the Lightning, as the regular-season champs have gone on to win the Stanley Cup just one time in the past decade (2012-2013 Chicago Blackhawks). In fact, in four of the past five seasons the Presidents' Trophy winner has failed to reach the conference final in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
However, the regular season is a long, difficult grind full of hurdles and challenges, and the Lightning should appreciate this honor for their hard work and achievements in Games 1-82. They have certainly proved that they were, without a doubt, the most fearsome force in the hockey from October to March, but their biggest test is still to come.
Tampa Bay has made a number of strong postseason runs recently, reaching the conference final three times, including one Stanley Cup Final appearance, in the past four years. However, they have come up short of the ultimate goal -- hoisting the Cup -- in each of those runs. Now, with the Presidents' Trophy in their corner, there's just a little extra pressure on them to go all the way.