BOSTON -- The Tampa Bay Lightning needed to get tougher to make a deep run in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the front office addressed that need with two impactful moves before last month's NHL trade deadline.
The Lightning acquired forward Blake Coleman from the New Jersey Devils and forward Barclay Goodrow from the San Jose Sharks to add a little more truculence and offensive skill to their forward group. Both trades involved Tampa Bay giving up a first-round draft pick, but for a team built to win championships right now, the steep price was more than worth it.
Both players threw their weight around in Saturday night's showdown against the Boston Bruins at TD Garden, where the Lightning prevailed with a 5-3 win in a game that featured a line brawl amid a playoff-type atmosphere. Coleman had three shots on goal, tallied 10 penalty minutes and was credited with three hits. Goodrow tallied 11 penalty minutes, fought B's forward Chris Wagner in the first period and spent a little time on the penalty kill.
Lightning forward Alex Killorn said the players the team acquired at the trade deadline all "have been a huge help for us so far," and it's easy to see how.
The additions of Coleman and Goodrow make the Lightning better equipped to beat the Bruins in a seven-game playoff series, which, if the current standings hold, would happen in the second round. One of the criticisms of the Lightning over the last few years has been they're not built to withstand the physicality of playoff hockey. Tampa Bay has an elite offense with some of the game's most skilled forwards, most notably Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. This impressive collection of high-end scoring talent is fun to watch, but it hasn't been enough to win a championship.
The Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2015, but have not been back since despite enjoying plenty of regular season success. Last season's first-round sweep at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets after winning the Presidents' Trophy was an embarrassment for the entire franchise and exposed a lack of physical and mental toughness.
This Lightning team, however, has shown an ability and willingness to play the kind of heavy game we often see in the playoffs, and doing it against a team like the Bruins on Saturday night made for compelling evidence of Tampa Bay's transformation.
"Certainly it's not the Tampa team I played in the past," Lightning forward Pat Maroon said. "I'm fortunate to play with such a good team. We have a lot of offensive power here, a lot of good offensive guys, but I think to bring in some rugged guys that play kind of a different style, brings a different feel to the locker room, certainly. And it brings a different feel to how you're supposed to play every night because some guys aren't going to be playing the east-west game -- a lot of these guys, Coleman and (Goodrow), myself, just playing that north-south game that grinds teams down low and wears the opposition down, and create that space for the top lines and let them go to work and see if they can get one. We have to find ways to keep balancing that and keep grinding."
The Lightning made a statement Saturday that they won't be pushed around by the Bruins, and that if Boston wants to play a physical style of hockey, Tampa Bay is more than up for the challenge. This rivalry has been steadily growing in intensity throughout the season, and the two exciting matchups this week (both teams earned a road win) have set the stage for what could be an exciting playoff series in May.
"I feel like we're getting a little bad blood right now. I think we're starting to stir the pot here a little bit, which is fun," Maroon said of the Bruins-Lightning rivalry. "Going into meaningful games down the stretch here. Boston is the team -- what they accomplished last year, and what they're accomplishing this year, that's the team to beat. It's good to start a little rivalry here against a good hockey team and a team that plays the right way. They play tough, and they like to stick up for their teammates."