Home Opener vs. Florida: After a disappointing 2012-13 season, fans didn’t know exactly what to expect heading into this year, especially with bench boss Jon Cooper and a handful of first-year players making up the roster. Yet the Tampa Bay Lightning set the tone early, which is why this victory stands as my favorite game of the season. Coming off of some difficult tests on the road, which the Bolts picked up two out of three wins, the Lightning came back to the Tampa Bay Times Forum and not only scored a season-high for goals in their 7-2 home-opener win against intrastate rival, the Florida Panthers, but now-captain Steven Stamkos scored his first hat trick of the year. The Lightning jumped ahead to an early 2-0 lead over the Panthers with the second of the two markers being Stamkos’ first of the year. Newcomers Valtteri Filppula and Ondrej Palat, both big factors in the team’s success, also had tallies and finally at the 12:25 mark of the third period the hats started to fly when Stamkos picked up his first hat trick since 2011. It also tied a career-high for points with four and was enough to make him the first star of the night. I don’t think there was a better way to have set the bar.
Bishop’s 48 Saves: Goaltending was never considered a strength of the Tampa Bay Lightning franchise, but during the 2013-14 season netminder Ben Bishop changed that expectation for seasons to come. That’s why his 48-save performance versus the Carolina Hurricanes on January 19 was a close second for me. In the contest Bishop single-handedly epitomized how big of an impact he had on helping the team stay on course throughout the long haul of the campaign, despite some major losses to their lineup.