15 Years After Winning a Stanley Cup with Them, John Tortorella Faces off with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Playoffs

By Chris Pennington on April 9, 2019 at 1:45 pm
John Tortorella and Martin St. Louis return to Tampa, this time as foes.

Wednesday night, John Tortorella and Martin St. Louis will watch their Blue Jackets square off with the Tampa Bay Lightning, a team considered to be the best of the salary cap era.

15 years ago, the two were partners on the other side, helping the Lightning to the organization's first and only Stanley Cup win.

Then, St. Louis was a 94-point NHL winger, and Tortorella was still wearing a suit, though he didn't need the glasses he presently sports. Their 2004 Finals win over the Calgary Flames in secured the reputation of each man. One as a Cup-winning coach, and the other as a scorer who showed up when it mattered most.

That Lightning team wasn't great until it was. In his third season in Tampa, Tortorella saw his team hit finish the 2003 calendar year slightly above .500. Solid, but nothing special. But once 2004 hit, they turned it on, finishing 31–9–2–5 to close the regular season and finish with the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Lightning rolled the New York Islanders and the Montreal Canadiens by a combined eight games to one in the first two rounds of the postseason before slipping past the Philadelphia Flyers in a seven-game series.

In the Stanley Cup Finals, Torts, St. Louis and the Lightning rallied from three separate game deficits, including a 3-2 hole that saw them take the final two games of the series.

St. Louis is now a Hall of Famer. He finished his career as a five-time all star, two-time Ross winner, a Hart winner, and has over 1,000 career points.

Tortorella may well end up on Yonge Street, too. He's the winningest American-born coach in NHL history (622 of them) and has made the playoffs 11 out of the 16 years that he's been a head coach. Oh, and the Hall loves coaches who have taken teams all the way.

When asked on Monday what it was like to have coached Tampa Bay to a Cup and now returning to face them in the playoffs 14 years later, Tortorella gave a, well, very Tortorella answer:

"No reminiscing for me with Tampa Bay, please."

To find how the Cup really made him feel, we had to backtrack a bit, before the Columbus days:

“For me it wasn't the final game and winning it,” Tortorella told NHL.com in 2014. “For me it was that I had the honor to watch athletes go through 60-plus days of all the swings of momentum and the injuries and what they had to do. I was able to watch that. It is the hardest trophy to win in all sports. The front-row center seat I had was to watch how the athletes handled themselves and grind through that. That was the most rewarding.”

Even the gruff Tortorella had to acknowledge how special of a time that was in his career. Wednesday night may be emotional for him. Just for a second. And then it's back to business.