TAMPA, Fla. — Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Julien BriseBois began media availability Tuesday morning inside Amalie Arena having a "feeling of emptiness."
"You get to the Stanley Cup Final to bring home the cup," BriseBois said. "Obviously, everyone is disappointed this morning."
Bolts captain Steven Stamkos could only think about what lies ahead for the Colorado Avalanche who get to party and parade around with the greatest trophy in all of sports.
"It's almost better to not know that feeling [of winning] because you don't know what you're missing."
Two days later, the Game 6 loss still stings.
"This is obviously going to take a while to digest, but we'll be back in September ready to go again," Bolts defenseman Victor Hedman said.
While the players cope with falling two wins short of a historic three-peat, the team understands this was a special journey with no regrets.
After Sunday's defeat, Pat Maroon told the media people were going to be shocked when they heard the injury report.
He was not wrong.
Even seeing that list, we're asking ourselves -- Where is Erik Cernak? Steven Stamkos? Victor Hedman?
During the home opener, somewhere in October, a different banner will be raised into the rafters and the remaining Bolts on this roster are going to be darn proud of what they see up there.
"Of the three runs, this was the one we didn't win, but we might be the most proud of in terms of how hard it was to get here," Stamkos said.
Bolts goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy said, "I can't ask for a better team and I'm extremely proud of what we've done and what we've been through."
Brayden Point missed 14 games during this postseason run, which will be the biggest 'what if' we have looking back on this 2021-22 group. Point is a man who scored 14 goals in back-to-back championship runs and his presence certainly was missed. He plans to make a full recovery from his torn quad and be ready at the beginning of next season.
Besides Cirelli, who could need surgery, it seems like all the injuries will not affect this group come September.
We just don't know who will be back and that starts with Nick Paul, a fan favorite ever since getting traded to the team at the deadline for Mathieu Joseph.
"The organization is unbelievable, not just how they treat the players, [but] how they treat the family. Everything about this organization is first class," Paul said.
Paul definitely has an interest in returning to Tampa, but he didn't sign an extension with Ottawa because he was seeking more money. While Paul is looking for the best deal possible, no state tax always helps the Lightning with a potential salary cap discount.
BriseBois said he has contacted Paul's agent, as well as Ondrej Palat and Jan Rutta's representation, to see what they can do in bringing all three back for next season.
On paper, it is hard to imagine the Bolts need to make drastic changes. We're expecting a tinker here and there with some classic BriseBois creativity, but there is no doubt this organization remains in 'win now' mode.
"I don't think we're done chasing Stanley Cups here," BriseBois said. "We're set up to be a really competitive team for the foreseeable future."
This year was about 'rare air.' Next season will be about redemption.
"I'm confident that we'll come back and now we have a different motivation, right?" Stamkos said. "We were chasing history and trying to win three straight. We didn't get our final goal, so there's some motivation in that as well."