The Tampa Bay Lightning will hold a special pre-puck drop ceremony to celebrate the career of all-time great Vincent Lecavalier prior to tonight's game against the in-state rival Florida Panthers at AMALIE Arena.
Lecavalier played 14 of his 17 NHL seasons with the Lightning and continues to hold franchise records for all-time games played (1,037), goals (383) and power-play goals (112). Lecavalier amassed 874 points during his Bolts career.
"Vinny was a guy that I leaned on a lot as I came into the league," said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who played five seasons with Lecavalier from 2008-13. "He was someone that went through the exact same situation I did (being drafted No. 1 overall by the organization). So, he was there in that regard and obviously a tremendous player and great leader. But, I think everyone sees that. It's the stuff he did away from the rink and in the community and how much he's entrenched himself and his family into this city which is very special. That's something I've always looked up to Vinny for. He's a great role model."
The Lightning will bring Lecavalier out for a video tribute following warmups. Lecavalier will also drop the ceremonial first puck.
"To come in as an 18 year old and to have that kind of veteran presence, he won a Cup with this organization and played over 1,000 games, so just a great guy to be around and one of the hardest-working guys on the ice and always wanted to make a difference," said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman, who played four seasons with Lecavalier from 2009-13. "He's meant a lot to this organization and this community so it was an honor to play with him and it'll be fun to see him get the appreciation he deserves."
Stamkos, who took over as Lightning captain on March 6, 2014, said a lot of the leadership qualities he brought in as captain he learned from Lecavalier.
"He was kind of one of those quiet leaders where he led by example and then you had Marty (St. Louis) who was more vocal. So, you just pick up on little things like that as you go on in your career, and obviously Vinny was a big piece of this franchise and someone who helped me when I first came into this league."
Lecavalier was a Bolts captain for seven seasons from 1999-2001 and again from 2008-13.
"In the community, his work speaks for itself," Hedman said. "I think a lot of that I really looked up to. It was an eye-opener for me. Being around him and Marty for such a long time helped me a lot in my career, and it was a pleasure for me to play alongside him and be in the same room with those guys."
THE BATTLE FOR I-75: The in-state rivalry between the Lightning and tonight's opponent Florida has ramped up in recent years, mainly because both teams have been playing at a high level. Last season was the first in which both teams qualified for the postseason.
They could have met in the playoffs too had Florida been able to dispose of the New York Islanders in the First Round.
"I think big rivalries really happen when you have a history of playoff series," Lightning center Brian Boyls said. "…Hopefully we meet them (in the playoffs), and it would be a lot of fun for the fans. Obviously, that's way down the line. Right now, it's two pretty good teams that are 2-0 going at each other right now. Hopefully, we can get to 3-0."
Both the Lightning and the Panthers currently sit atop the Atlantic Division standings with a 2-0-0 record.
"Last year was the first kind of step as far as creating that rivalry, two good teams, and I think it's only going to get more intense as this year goes on and probably in the future," said Bolts goaltender Ben Bishop, who was the first netminder off the ice from morning skate and will likely make his second start of the season tonight. "It's still early in the season. There might be a little feel-out process there, but it's two good teams going at it. So, it should be a lot of fun."
Former Bolt forward Jonathan Marchessault will face his old team for the first time in the regular season. Marchessault has been skating on the Panthers' top line with Jaromir Jagr and Aleksander Barkov and leads Florida for scoring (2 goals, 2 assists) through its first two games.
"He was such a fun guy to be around," Boyle said. "He was a great teammate. He's getting an opportunity now, which is always great. Great to see guys do well. He's started off pretty hot, and we have to be aware of him on the ice."
Added Lightning head coach Jon Cooper: "The one thing about Marchy was when I was in the minors, he was in the minors, and so I saw him play on a couple teams and I knew back then that he had that ability to put the puck in the net. He was always a threat when he was on the ice. So when we had an opportunity to get him, Julien BriseBois was the assistant general manager, and we kind of knew what he was all about and Steve (Yzerman) pulled the trigger to get him and it was great for us. He needed to be more consistent competitively, and when he found that he turned into a regular in the NHL. He's got a huge personality. He was really, really well liked in our room, and I know when he signed with Florida, we were a little dejected at that, not only that he left us, but the fact that he went to Florida. I'm really happy for him because he's one of those guys that he's a little undersized so they have to find their way to do something a little bit better than other guys and he's done that. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be cheering for him tonight, but I cheer for him for the other 76 games we don't play them."
ODDS AND ENDS: Victor Hedman needs one goal to reach 50 for his NHL career…The Lightning are looking for their second-straight 3-0-0 start and fifth in franchise history…the Bolts went just 1-3-1 against Florida last season but have won five of their last seven games at AMALIE Arena versus the Panthers…The Lightning rallied from a two-goal deficit to win each of their first two games and, according to the Elias Sports Bureau, overcame a multi-goal deficit to win consecutive games for the first time since March 2-3, 2012…The Bolts rank tied for third in the NHL for shots per game (35)…Tampa Bay's plus-3 goal differential is currently tied for fourth best in the NHL.