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In the late 1980s, the NHL announced it would expand.
Two rival groups from the Tampa Bay Area area decided to bid for a franchise: a St.
An injury to Puppa in that game, however, would see the Lightning lose the next three games and the series.
The Lightning acquired goalscorer Dino Ciccarelli from the Detroit Red Wings during the 1996 off-season, and he did not disappoint, scoring 35 goals in the 1996–97 season, with Chris Gratton notching another 30 goals.
While Puppa's play resulted in a significant improvement in goals allowed (from 332 to 251), Savard was long past his prime and Klima's scoring was offset by his defensive lapses.They shocked the visiting Chicago Blackhawks 7–3 with four goals by little-known Chris Kontos.The Lightning shot to the top of the Campbell Conference's Norris Division within a month, behind Kontos' initial torrid scoring pace and a breakout season by forward Brian Bradley.In their fourth season, 1995–96, with Bradley still leading the team in scoring, second-year forward Alexander Selivanov scoring a total of 31 goals, and Roman Hamrlik having an All-Star year on defense, the Lightning finally qualified for the playoffs, nosing out the defending Stanley Cup champion New Jersey Devils with a record of 38–33–12 with 88 points for the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference by a single win.Due to his stellar play in net, Puppa was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy (losing out to Jim Carey of the Washington Capitals).