By Jeff Paterson
They may not bring the sun with them, but there's no question the Tampa Lightning will bring the heat when they roll into town for Tuesday's meeting with the Vancouver Canucks. Boasting the NHL's leading goal scorer and the league's second leading scorer, the Lightning arrive here having gone 9-3-2 in their last 14 games and 10-2-1 in their last 13 away from home.
So the Lightning certainly have plenty of firepower and they're using that to take a run at the Southeast Division title.
But the Canucks have Roberto Luongo
And if anyone knows the book on the Tampa Bay Lightning it's the Canucks netminder who not only saw a lot of the Bolts in his time with the Florida Panthers, but admits he also got caught up in the Sunshine State rivalry.
"It's big," Luongo said after a recent practice looking ahead to his only meeting of the year against his former foes. "It's not as bad as we have here with Calgary and Minnesota and I think that's due to the fact that Florida's never faced them in the playoffs and that's where the big rivalry would begin. So it is a rivalry, but I wouldn't say it's as intense as what we've got here."
Still after five years in Florida including the spring of 2004 when his Panthers missed the playoffs and the Lightning won the Stanley Cup, Luongo knows it won't take much to get the competitive juices flowing for Tuesday's tilt with Tampa.
"It's always fun to see those teams you've played so much throughout your career," says Luongo who's faced Tampa Bay 24 times in his six seasons in the league going 11-10-2 with three shutouts, a 2.47 goals against average and a save percentage of 92.7. "It'll be nice to play against Vinnie and Marty and all those guys that I was so used to seeing on almost a weekly basis."
Vinnie, of course, is Vincent Lecavalier who's having a career year leading the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy with 42 goals. He's currently tied with former Canuck Brian Bradley for the Lighting franchise record for goals in a season. And Marty is Martin St. Louis, the former Hart and Art Ross Trophy winner, who is second only to Sidney Crosby this season with 89 points (39+50=89). Lecavalier is third in the scoring parade with 88 points.
Luongo is familiar with that dynamic duo not only from his time playing against them down in Florida but also as a teammate of those two and Lightning forward Brad Richards on both the 2004 Canadian World Cup team and the 2006 Olympic squad.
Asked if he has any fond memories of the Panther-Lightning match-ups he's been involved in over the years, Luongo breaks into a smile.
"Oh tons. I loved to play those guys because there was a rivalry, especially in the games in Tampa," he recalls, before throwing a little fuel on the old Florida fire. "A number of times I remember facing over 50 shots and winning the games. Those are probably my best memories." Roberto Luongo
doesn't want any part of a 50-shot night on Tuesday against Tampa Bay and he certainly doesn't want to let Vincent Lecavalier inch closer to the magical 50-goal mark. But he's willing to do whatever it takes to get his Canucks another victory.
Luongo may not be a Florida Panther any more, but he maintains an off-season home in South Florida. And it's clear by talking to him that even though he's a country and a continent away these days, some of that old state rivalry still burns. So he has a little something extra to draw on when he hits the ice on Tuesday night.
The Tampa Bay Lightning likely already know it, but they're about to find out again -- a motivated Roberto Luongo
isn't much fun to play against. And the Canucks and their fans have to be hoping that a little spillover from the Sunshine State showdown brightens everyone's day in Vancouver.
Jeff Paterson is a Team 1040 broadcaster and a regular contributor to the Georgia Straight. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org