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Season-opening road trip tests Bolts’ mettle

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

Guy Boucher relishes at the thought of taking on a good challenge. What’s even more interesting and important to him, is how his team reacts to one.

As the Lightning continue on their season-opening five-game road trip this week, Boucher will have the chance to assess both.

The Lightning and Capitals kick off the week with the first meeting between the clubs since Tampa Bay swept Washington out of the playoffs in four-straight games last spring. But if the fierce rivalry isn’t just media fodder for a game that will broadcast on national television, it at least highlights a challenging schedule that will test the Bolts’ mettle early on.

“We knew coming into this road trip that it was going to be a good test for us,” forward Adam Hall said. “Obviously at the beginning of any season you want to come out strong and put your best foot forward, but at the same time we know a lot of these teams are going to give us their best stuff.”

Featured on the road trip is a stretch of three games in four nights. Overall, the five-game trip spans a total of 10 days, including three in Washington, Long Island and South Florida, and is the team’s longest of the entire regular season.

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“For a lot of these teams, they’re having the pleasure of hosting us in their building for their home opener,” Boucher said. “So it’s no secret they’re going to be charging at us. Win or lose, there are no excuses. We have to be ready.”

Said captain Vincent Lecavalier: “Any road trip is tough. But when you’re gone for 10 days, there’s a lot of traveling and it’s definitely a grind.”

Consider for a moment what each opponent on the Lightning’s season-opening road trip brings to the table, and it becomes clear that Tampa Bay might be met with a little extra motivation to rectify some recent shortcomings.

Carolina had its season ruined by Tampa Bay on the final day of the regular season last spring after a Lightning victory prevented the Hurricanes from taking the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Boston, despite winning the Stanley Cup, was pushed to seven games in the Eastern Conference Final by the Lightning, while Washington got swept by Tampa Bay in four-straight games.

The New York Islanders, as well as the Florida Panthers, improved their teams in the off-season. In fact, the Islanders and Lightning split four games last season, while the Panthers took four of six total meetings from the Bolts.

The way Hall sees the five-game swing away from home, is that although challenging, is not all that bad.

The extended trips throughout the season usually call for some sort of team-building activities spearheaded by the coaching staff designed to create chemistry among teammates, while also keeping the players’ bodies loose and their minds sharp. Plus, mixing things up with some fun and games breaks up the day-to-day, often monotonous routines players get into when being away from home.

“At the beginning of the year like this, I think it could be a good thing,” Lecavalier added. “First of all, you get it out of the way, and second, I think the guys are all so pumped up for the season that it works with you in helping to get your good habits going.”

That certainly will be the goal, as the Lightning will play 36 more times away from home before the regular season ends.

“It’s something that all teams go through at different stretches of the season,” Hall said. “There are always different challenges, but when teams find ways to fight through those, that’s what builds character and builds a strong team.”

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