TAMPA, Fla. – To decorate what is normally an Amalie Arena concourse for Media Day activities, the NHL displayed large murals of many Stanley Cup celebrations of the past. One of them showed Lightning captain and longtime former Sabre Dave Andreychuk hoisting the Cup after the Bolts’ Game Seven win over Calgary in 2004.
It’s a moment frozen in bronze on the arena plaza and one Andreychuk hopes the current edition of the Lightning can duplicate sometime in the next couple of weeks.
“There’s a resounding message that it’s very hard to get to this point,” Andreychuk, now Tampa Bay’s vice president of corporate and community affairs, said here Tuesday. “I said it in ‘04 to Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, Brad Richards, Dan Boyle: ‘Just because you’re 21, 23, 25 years old, you might not ever get back here again.’
“We’re saying that same message to these young guys who are obviously very talented. They deserve to be here but they need to understand how hard it is to get to this point.”
Andreychuk, 51, was a 40-year-old captain of the Lightning under coach John Tortorella and had already played 21 years in the NHL after being one of the Sabres’ three first-round picks in 1982. He had lost in the conference finals three times and had never played for the Cup until Tampa Bay finally broke through.
“When I look back on it now, I’m so very proud of what the journey was for our players,” Andreychuk said. “Fans don’t quite understand watching from afar what actually happens on a day to day basis. It’s pretty impressive. For us, like a lot of other teams, we played through a lot.
“We had a group where John and I and his staff were all on the same page as to how we were feeling. At the end of games, you had to say the right words so everybody gets back on track. But it’s something you went through as a captain the whole year. A lot of my conversations after games was to move on.”
Andreychuk, a member of the Sabres’ Hall of Fame, still remains third on Buffalo’s all-time list with 368 goals and is second in points to Gilbert Perreault with 804. He’s sixth in games played (fourth among forwards) at 837. He’s currently 14th on the NHL’s all-time list in goals (640) and 28th in points (1,338)
But he played in Buffalo at a time when the franchise was enduring a 10-year drought of playoff victories. Not until he was dealt to Toronto in 1993 did he win in the postseason, helping the Leafs get to Game Seven of the Western Conference final before losing to Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles as No. 99 posted the most memorable hat trick of his career.
“I look at how fortunate I was,” he said. “I played on some really good teams and we were close a lot of times in Denver, Toronto, New Jersey. Never got here. That indicates that this is up for grabs. Those four teams in the conference finals, any one of those teams could have won. Nobody would have batted an eye if, say, Anaheim had won the Stanley Cup.
“The ’93 thing still sits with me. I know now the date. They were showing it, how on May 29 that Wayne Gretzky had his best game ever. I was part of it on the wrong side. That’s a perfect example of a team that was unfortunate and didn’t win. We talked in ‘04 about our experiences of how close we were and to seize this opportunity.”
As for this series, Andreychuk is like any other Tampa Bay fan: All eyes are on captain Steven Stamkos.
“Everything is based on playoffs and Steven is no different,” Andreychuk said. “He would give up the 50-goal seasons to win a Cup. Steven and Jonathan Toews are such good players, players who lead their teams and not solely on the ice, but off the ice as well.
“Steven has a good leadership group around him, and that helps. And really it’s not about one guy wearing a letter, it’s about a bunch of guys that are with him. The addition of Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle and Ryan Callahan have made his job a lot easier.”
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman laughed when asked about tips he got on playing the Lightning from his legendary father. Scotty Bowman, 81, spends winters in Tampa and works as a consultant for the Hawks. He’s a regular at Lightning games in Amalie Arena’s press box.
“He’s got a pretty good handle on it. He had a firsthand viewing of this team many times,” Stan Bowman said. “He’s given us some of his thoughts. At this point obviously you’ve seen what Tampa’s done, they’ve had a great run. It’s impressive what they’ve been able to do to get to this point. We’re trying to take all the information we can in and prepare ourselves as best we can. But ultimately it’s going to come down to how we execute.”
The Lightning’s Game Seven win over the New York Rangers knocked Garth Brooks out of the arena. The country superstar was going to do three shows this weekend but they were postponed.