LIGHTNING (0-0-0) at HURRICANES (0-0-0)
TV: SUN (HD), FS-CR (HD)
Season series: Friday night's season opener for Carolina and Tampa Bay marks the first of six head-to-head matchups between the Southeast Division rivals. Last season, the Bolts won four of six regular season meetings between the two clubs.
Big Story: The two teams are beginning the new season in the same place they ended the previous one -- the Lightning eliminated the Hurricanes from playoff contention in shocking fashion by beating the 'Canes 6-2 at the RBC Center on the final day of the 2010-11 regular season. Tampa Bay ultimately made it to the conference finals before falling to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in seven games, while the Hurricanes missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years since winning it all in 2006.
Lightning: From winning a Game 7 in Pittsburgh to sweeping the top-seeded Washington Capitals, the 2010-11 Lightning had their share of memorable moments before falling just short of a berth in the Stanley Cup Final.
Most of the cast that propelled the Lightning to their longest playoff run since winning the Cup in 2004 is back. Steven Stamkos, who was re-signed to a five-year, $37.5 million contract in July, should continue to thrive with Hart Trophy finalist, 36-year-old Martin St. Louis, on Tampa Bay's top line. Captain Vincent Lecavalier, who joined St. Louis in hoisting the franchise's only Cup seven years ago, is healthy and hopes to extend his streak of 11 straight 20-goal seasons.
Tampa Bay lost its playoff hero from a year ago, Sean Bergenheim, as well as winger Simon Gagne and backup goaltender Mike Smith. However, general manager Steve Yzerman retained the team's most potent scorer, Stamkos, and added netminder Mathieu Garon and blueliners Bruno Gervais and Matt Gilroy.
But as last year's Lightning squad -- operating under first-year coach Guy Boucher and a first-year GM -- flew under the radar, this year's Bolts are aware of the heightened expectations surrounding their club as the new season begins.
"I think expectations have always been high," St. Louis told NHL.com. "Are they higher? I don't know. Our goal is to win the Cup. I do think people will be a little more cautious about us and more prepared for us. We will just go about our business and try to make it one series further."
Hurricanes: The 'Canes have turned the page after last spring's heartbreak.
Despite losing forward Erik Cole to free agency and defenseman Joe Corvo via trade during the offseason, Carolina kept its core intact while adding depth. With captain Eric Staal, Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner and workhorse goaltender Cam Ward already in the fold, the Hurricanes signed defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who won a Stanley Cup with the Boston Bruins last season, to a three-year, $12.75 million contract. They also added forwards Alexei Ponikarovsky, Anthony Stewart and Tim Brent, as well as signing former Flyers' netminder Brian Boucher to back up Ward.
Skinner and his teammates are embracing the obstacles ahead and ready to put their recharged roster to the test in front of their home crowd on opening night.
"You want to be a guy who is sort of counted on and plays in all situations of the game and in the games when it matters most," Skinner told NHL.com. "I'm looking forward to the challenge and I think as a team we've gotten better and I'm excited to start the season."
Who's Hot: Dwayne Roloson certainly doesn't look like he's about to turn 42, which he does on Wednesday. In 150 minutes played during three preseason games, Roloson had a 1.20 goals-against-average and a .955 save percentage. ... While offensive struggles doomed the Hurricanes in posting a 1-4-1 preseason record, goaltending was a major bright spot. Boucher cemented his spot as the backup goaltender by stopping 90 of 94 shots in the three games played, while Ward, who is set to start the season opener, registered a 36-save shutout in Carolina's only preseason win.
Injury Report: Patrick Dwyer (illness) and Chad LaRose (lower body) are both expected to play for Carolina. ... Lightning forward Dominic Moore (back) is listed as day-to-day. Tampa Bay will be without defensemen Mattias Ohlund (knee inflammation) and Scott Jackson (offseason knee surgery), who were placed on injured reserve.
Stat Pack: In six preseason games, Carolina went 21 for 23 (91.3 percent) on the penalty kill -- the second-best mark in the League. ... Stamkos, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, has 96 goals in the last two seasons -- the most in the NHL during that span.
Puck Drop: Both teams have something to prove as the season gets under way. The 'Canes are desperate to avoid another early spring, while the Lightning want to show that last spring wasn't a fluke.
"You forget how hard you worked to get where you were the previous year and the details of the game," Boucher told the St. Petersburg Times. "My job is to make sure the players are in the right state of mind, that they understand expectations are extremely high and that the standard for today is high but the standard for tomorrow is even higher. I have to make sure my actions and words translate that every day."