Coach John Tortorella said he believes most teams in the East wanted to play the Lightning in the playoffs "because they're not sure we're battle-tested."
Tortorella is not complaining or using the issue to motivate his players. It is, he said, part of the evolutionary process of gaining respect in the NHL.
"I think we're climbing the ladder of respectability within the league," Tortorella said Tuesday. "I think you gain respect in the National Hockey League.
"It's a tough thing to do. You don't do it in one year then maybe a couple of playoff rounds. I think you gain respect when this goes on for seven, eight, nine, 10 years, as some of the established franchises in this league have."
So now, Tortorella said, is not the time to measure where Tampa Bay stands in the hierarchy.
"We're just going to go about our business and try to find a way," he said. "If you do it in the right way, and we feel we're doing it the right way, along the line a little respect comes each little piece of the season or each playoff season. We'll see where it goes five, six, seven years from now."
Win and they will come
Not all of the Lightning's home playoff games have been sold out. But local television ratings are up, and there does seem to be a buzz in Tampa Bay about the Lightning's run through the playoffs.
Is Tampa Bay becoming a hockey town?
"Whenever there's success, there's going to be growth there," Tortorella said. "Whenever there's a sport that is succeeding, and I think we're doing it the right way and going about it in the right way, I think the support starts coming in."
Tortorella said this is a good sports market, but attendance is directly related to winning percentage.
"It has always been a great sports town, but we make our own bed," Tortorella said. "For people to come out and see you play, you've got to go about it the right way in building it and then succeeding.
"That's plain and simple. If you're going to lose, people aren't going to come see you play."
Tortorella thinks Tampa Bay is proud of its hockey team, but there are certain people who are more excited than others.
"I know there's a core in the city who have been here since the get-go and have gone through some tough times," Tortorella said. "And those are the people you feel happy for. ... You do want to give them something to feel good about because they've been through the tough times."
The Lightning has advanced further than it ever has before, so is it surprised by anything it has done?
"I don't think we expected to play only nine games by now," center Brad Richards said. "That's always surprising."
Tortorella said, "I don't think anything has surprised me. In general terms, the ability to handle things when things aren't going well.
"I think that's a little bit of resiliency. And it doesn't surprise me because I think our team is growing in that area."
Stanley Cup viewing
The Stanley Cup will be on display Thursday through Sunday in the Tampa Bay area at various Sports Authority stores:
THURSDAY: 12601 Citrus Plaza Drive, Citrus Park, 4-8 p.m.