It’s been a rather strange season for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Marty St. Louis was traded, leaving some fans in tears. The team’s best player, Steven Stamkos, went down with a broken leg early, missing 45 games. Starting goalie Ben Bishop is out with an injury, leading some writers to suggest the Bolts are toast even before the playoffs begin. And it still seems strange not seeing former Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier in blue after he was bought out of his contract last summer.
But tonight, the Lightning host Montreal in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. This is the second time they’ve made the playoffs in four years under owner Jeff Vinik, who runs a model organization and gives back to the community in ways that other NHL others would be wise to emulate.
The Lightning earned 101 points to finish second behind Boston in the Eastern Conference, a great accomplishment. And the Forum was loud. The team averaged 18,612 fans at home, according to ESPN.com, again showing Tampa is a big-time hockey town.
Vinik, his players and staff, and the fans deserve a standing ovation. But tonight, the second season begins.
Fans will never forget the Lightning’s playoff run 10 years ago this summer that resulted in the Stanley Cup Championship. Downtown Tampa was electric. The noise in the arena was deafening in the Game 7 clincher against the Flames. The fans outside the building roared. It was, indeed, a happening.
Let’s repeat that run — because Lord Stanley’s Cup needs some sun and fun.