WASHINGTON — The Tampa Bay Lightning spent Monday at the White House reflecting on their 2020 and 2021 Stanley Cup championships but also thinking ahead to what comes next.
With the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a week away, Tampa Bay’s focus is on trying to become the first team to win the Stanley Cup in three consecutive seasons since the New York Islanders won four straight championships from 1980-1983.
“Back-to-back is hard. Three in a row is even harder,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “So for us, we’re excited about the opportunity. We’re going to be etched on that Cup forever with the teams we had the past two years, but we want to create new memories. That’s something that we strive for and we’re looking forward to starting next week.”
Although the Lightning have won the Stanley Cup three times, this was their first time at the White House. The NHL work stoppage that wiped out the season following the Lightning’s first championship in 2004 also precluded them from visiting the White House and COVID-19 restrictions made visiting last season following their 2020 championship impossible.
It appeared the Lightning might not make it to the White House this season either when the logistics didn’t work out for them visit when they were in town to face the Washington Capitals on Oct. 16 and April 6. But Tampa Bay was able to fit the trip in by flying to Washington after an 8-4 win at the Florida Panthers on Sunday before returning home to host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; BSSUN, BSOH, ESPN+, NHL LIVE).
“We weren’t sure if we were going to get this opportunity, but it was certainly worth the wait,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “That was one of the highlights of a lot of our lives, not just their hockey careers to get with the President. It was a tremendous honor for a lot of us and an unforgettable experience.”
Rejoining the Lightning for the day were forward Mathieu Joseph, who was traded to Ottawa Senators on March 20 but is sidelined with an injury, Curtis McElhinney, who was the backup goalie on the 2020 and 2021 teams, and defenseman Braydon Coburn, who played on 2020 team. Forward Pat Maroon didn’t get to visit the White House after winning the Cup with the St. Louis Blues in 2019 because was he playing for the Lightning and unavailable when the Blues visited. So Maroon appreciated finally getting the chance Monday.
“Obviously, with COVID, it was hard to get here, so I’m glad we got the opportunity to get here,” Maroon said. “But it’s good to have that bond again and [remember] just how hard it was to win a Stanley Cup and how hard it is to get rewarded and get these opportunities, these special moments that you get to do.”
Prior to a ceremony with President Biden on the White House’s South Lawn, the Lightning were honored with a reception on the State Floor and got to see some of the history in the East Wing in the China Room, the library, State Dining Room and Red, Blue and Green rooms. After the ceremony, President Biden surprised the Lightning by inviting them into the Oval Office.
“There’s much history and tradition coming from there,” defenseman Ryan McDonagh said. “To get to see that firsthand is pretty unique — just all the different portraits of former presidents and stuff within the White House, there’s so much history and tradition in there. You wish you could spend more than one day to try to take it all in.”
During the ceremony, President Biden noted the challenges that the Lightning faced in winning the Stanley Cup in two very different seasons.
“In 2020, your fans watched you win from thousands of miles away as you competed in the bubble in Edmonton due to the pandemic. But this past season, you got to deliver something truly special, hoisting the Cup on your home ice in front of the Tampa faithful and don’t underestimate what that feeling meant to so many fans, especially kids and lifelong memories you created for countless families.
“The victory capped off an incredible run of one of the most well-rounded teams in recent memory.”
President Biden also invited the Lightning to return to the White House if they win the Cup again, saying, “Who knows? You may be here next year if you’re willing to come back.”
Speaking during the ceremony on behalf of the Lightning players, McDonagh said that is the plan.
“Although we know the difficulties ahead of us, we feel we have a great group intact that’s going to battle hard for one another and leave it all on the ice,” McDonagh said. “The quest for a third Cup is not out of reach.”
So rather than looking back to celebrate a final time what the Lightning accomplished the past two seasons, coach Jon Cooper wanted the day to provide inspiration for what they hope to do again.
“We want to make it to Monday and do the same thing,” Cooper said. “That’s our mindset, but I think what this does is it’s further proof when you win with a team, you walk together forever. And I know I didn’t make that line up, but it is true in every sense. And to be able to see some of our former players who were able to make the trip and how it’s kind of unifying our organization, how happy they all feel, that’s what I’ll remember about this.”