Every new journey begins with a first step.
But consider for a moment the success of the Tampa Bay Lightning last season, and it becomes clear that the team’s current quest, which begins tonight, actually started with a giant leap.
The Lightning open the 2011-12 regular season tonight at the RBC Center against the Carolina Hurricanes, the same team in which just six months ago, the Bolts knocked out of playoff contention on the very last day of the regular season.
And yes, head coach Guy Boucher believes the Hurricanes will be out for retribution.
“Their season ended last year because of us,” Boucher said. “Not to mention it’s their home opener, so these guys are going to be charging at us.”
If Boucher has any say in the equation, the Lightning will be charging too. Through Carolina, through the remaining 81-game regular season schedule that follows and on to claim the elusive Stanley Cup.
That’s the prize on which the players’ eyes are widely set, yet the focus remains narrow.
“This is a new year,” forward Steve Downie said. “Last season was great. It definitely raised the bar and set the standard a little higher, but we’re not thinking about that anymore. I would be lying to you if I said it still doesn’t make that fire burn, but it’s a new season so all we can do is build off that run and look ahead to this year. We have to move forward.”
While the lengthy postseason run that saw the Bolts gracefully bow out in a 1-0 defeat to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final undoubtedly implanted lasting memories in the minds of a revived fan base, that journey meant very little on Friday as players and staff gathered for a morning team meeting.
Today, they start on a new path in which they’ll face a different set of challenges.
“It’s a fresh start for everybody,” Steven Stamkos said. “Every team starts the same with a 0-0-0 record. There’s really no use thinking about last season anymore. Obviously it was a tough one to swallow, but a few months pass and you get over it. I think the coaching staff has done a pretty good job of getting us focused for tonight and having us ready to get down to business.”
The summer was certainly brief, but a short offseason is a small sacrifice for a team coming off a deep run into the playoffs. Both Downie and Stamkos agreed that last spring provided not only themselves, but the entire team, with a valuable learning experience, but went on to say it is not something to continually brood over.
“As coach Boucher always says, everything is a process,” center Adam Hall said. “Last season I think we took a big step in beginning that process, but we also had a lot of discussions during training camp about putting things in the past behind. Right now, this is our chance.”
That process continues again today.
Added Hall: “It starts now.”