Louis Domingue was among the last Lightning players on the ice following Sunday's morning skate in Columbus.
You couldn't blame Domingue, 25, for soaking this all in, the goaltender admittedly not knowing when this shot in the NHL would come.
But after a humbling demotion by Arizona, and a potentially career-altering trade to Tampa Bay in mid-November, Domingue joined the league's best team Sunday. Domingue will back up No. 1 Andrei Vasilevskiy for an extended period as Peter Budaj is considered "week-to-week" with his left leg injury.
"They've given me a chance," Domingue said. "It's just a matter of me grabbing it."
Domingue earned the promotion for his stellar work in AHL Syracuse, sparking the Crunch's turnaround (and 10-game win streak) with his steady play (9-4, 2.39 goals against). He found his game,and his confidence, after losing six straight to start the season in Arizona.
"I thought it was just a matter of getting that first win and things were going to get rolling for me, whether it was going to be in the NHL or the 'A'" Domingue said. "My work ethic has been the same whether I was doing well or not."
Domingue thought he was doing the right things in Arizona, but on the league's worst – and one of the youngest – teams, he struggled mightily (4.33 goals against average, .856 save percentage).
Arizona put him on waivers in late October, catching Domingue by surprise.
"I was kind of naive thinking that nothing was happening," Domingue said. "I didn't see it coming."
With no team, Domingue worked out on his own, renting ice at the Coyotes practice facility in Scottsdale. He called up former Coyotes teammate Shane Doan. It would just be the two of them on the ice, unless Doan brought his son.
Domingue got to spend more time with his almost two-year-old daughter Mila, though joked they were both getting on each other's nerves.
"It was tough," Domingue said. "For two weeks I was waiting for that call for a trade. And it never came."
Until Nov. 14, when the Lightning swapped AHL goaltenders in trading Michael Leighton (along with forward Tye McGinn) for Domingue. Tampa Bay wanted to help Syracuse, but also felt Domingue was a better NHL option as a No. 3.
Coach Jon Cooper noted they had seen it first-hand, Domingue with a 2.03 goals against average against the Lightning. That included stopping 36 of 39 shots in a 5-3 win in Tampa Mar. 21, a crushing loss for the Lightning's playoff hopes.
"How many times has a change of scenery had a positive effect on somebody?" Cooper said. "Sometimes you've got to find your game. He's most definitely deserved to his chance to get back up here."
Domingue likely won't get a ton of action – Budaj made just seven starts in the first 37 games with Vasilevskiy's workhorse load. But Domingue seems reinvigorated, already sensing a completely different vibe with the Lightning organization.
"They have winning in their blood, and it rubs off on everybody," Domingue said. "On the road I'm probably going to reflect on this and be glad that everything happened. I'm pretty grateful to be here right now."
Wing Ryan Callahan took another significant step towards his return in getting cleared for contact Sunday, with Cooper saying the veteran could return on this five-game trip.
Callahan, who had practiced in a red jersey the previous couple days, even participated in penalty kill drills. Thursday marks the three-week mark since Callahan suffered the upper-body injury in Arizona.
"We're definitely close," Callahan said.
Vasilevskiy will start against Columbus and likely fellow Vezina Trophy candidate Sergei Bobrovsky… D Anton Stralman was with usual partner Mikhail Sergachev at the skate, a good indication he'll return tonight after missing two games with a lower-body injury. D Andrej Sustr and D Slater Koekkoek were the last on the ice, likely scratches with Tampa Bay going with 12 forwards.