The home portion of the Lightning’s schedule comes to a close tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum as the Florida Panthers come to town. The teams will play the back end of the home and home tomorrow at 5 p.m. at the BankAtlantic Center. As for tonight, its all about the fans. Before the game, the players will walk the red carpet on the west plaza. Fans can get autographs, photos and greet the Lightning as they arrive for the game. The first players usually start arriving around 4:30 p.m. Fans will also receive ‘Bring it Back’ T-shirts when they arrive with random shirts being signed by Lightning players. During the game fans can enter to win jerseys off the players’ backs. The team will also give the fans a final salute at center ice after the game.
As for the actual hockey portion of the night, Antero Niittymaki will get the start in goal with Mike Smith getting the go tomorrow afternoon in Sunrise. Victor Hedman is still feeling the effects of the upper body injury he suffered on Thursday night and it appears his season may be done as he may not be ready for tomorrow either. That’s all that’s new on the injury front. That means Andrej Meszaros will be good to go.
Hockey players never cease to amaze me. For those of you who missed Thursday’s game, Meszaros took a slap shot to the throat, just to the right of his adam’s apple. He immediately went down before trying feverishly to get to the bench. It was a crazy scene with him skating past Head Medical Trainer Tom Mulligan and into the player tunnel while Head Coach Rick Tocchet helped get the stretcher off the ice and on to the bench. He missed the final few minutes of the second period and returned for the third. He is still suffering some breathing issues due to swelling and he is having a little trouble talking, but he is good to go for tonight’s game. I wish I could say I’m surprised, but after taking a puck to the face last season, basically shattering his mandible, and the time it took to stitch everything up only keeping him from finishing the game, I’m not. He is a warrior and all that does not go unnoticed by management, the coaching staff, the fans or the Insider.
As the World Cup approaches it sounds like the Lightning may have a number of players heading to Germany for the tournament. Steven Stamkos and Steve Downie are expected to represent Canada while Victor Hedman may play for his native Sweden. There are also some whispers about one or two defensemen from the Bolts being named to Team USA. My guess would be Mike Lundin and/or Matt Smaby, both Minnesota natives.
The team will fly to Ft. Lauderdale tonight after the game for the final game of the 2009-10 season.