On the schedule, it appears as just another game.
For fans and several of the players themselves, however, the memories tell a much more compelling story as do the pictures adorning the walls inside the Lightning locker room.
Thursday, the Lightning and Calgary Flames face off in what will be NHL Game No. 455, or better yet, a rivalry renewed between the 2004 Stanley Cup contenders.
“It’s always special when we see them,” Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier said. “You always start to remember what it was like every time you go on the ice against them.”
In all honesty, how could they forget?
The lights were bright, the fans were screaming, the stage was set and the Cup was inside the building for the taking.
By Calgary, that is.
What Lecavalier recalled as his single greatest hockey moment was almost one that wasn’t.
With the Flames clinging to a three-games-to-two lead in the best-of-seven series, a television replay of a disputed goal in the third period by Calgary’s Martin Gelinas provided insufficient evidence that the puck ever crossed either Nikolai Khabibulin’s pad or the goal line. The game entered sudden death with Calgary needing just one goal to win the Stanley Cup.
Instead, Martin St. Louis put in the game-winner for the Lightning in double overtime to force a seventh and decisive match two nights later in Tampa Bay.
“The biggest goal I ever scored,” St. Louis said. “When I look back on my career and think about all of them, that’s the one that will come to mind.”
Lecavalier, St. Louis and Pavel Kubina are the only three holdovers remaining from the ’04 championship team, and as the Bolts captain noted, “they don’t have a lot of guys left either on their side.”
True, but they do have one that switched sides.
Flames General Manager Jay Feaster will be in the building Thursday, most likely sitting high above the ice watching from the press box. For many, it will be a familiar sight for those who recall seeing Feaster in that exact location for eight years while serving in the same capacity with Tampa Bay. Since leaving the Bolts after being relieved of his duties following the conclusion of the 2007-08 regular season, Feaster served as an assistant to former Calgary General Manager Darryl Sutter before taking over himself nearly one year ago.
Lecavalier added that while Feaster is now gone, neither he, nor his legacy, is by any means forgotten.
“I’m sure he will think it’s special to be back,” Lecavalier said of his one-time general manager. “He’s a great guy and when you look at what he did for the organization, it’s phenomenal. I think he’ll be happy to be in Tampa again and I expect the fans to be happy that he’s here too.”