TAMPA, Fla. –- The Tampa Bay Lightning open their 20th anniversary season by hosting the Washington Capitals at the sold-out Tampa Bay Times Forum on Saturday night.
It’s not quite business as usual, though, as emotions and nerves were running high in both locker rooms.
“This is not a normal night,” Lightning coach Guy Boucher said after the morning skate. “It’s exciting for everyone. The players have been waiting for a long time, the fans have been waiting for a long time and I’ve been waiting for a long time. It’s here and it’s now and we’re all eager to go.”
The day promises to be especially exciting for Cory Conacher, who will be making his NHL debut skating on a line with Vincent Lecavalier and Teddy Purcell.
“Yeah, it’s hit me,” Connacher said. “I want to act like I’ve been here before but even just walking into the rink tonight will be a great experience.”
Keeping Connacher on even keel is one of Boucher’s challenges.
“Especially him,” Boucher said. “He’s got tons of emotions. The tendency is to get lost in that emotion. We want him to stay steady.”
The season opener marks a new challenge for Alex Ovechkin, playing right wing for the first time in his professional career.
“I have to play on the right side so I’ll do what I have to do,” Ovechkin said. “I see the different angles. For some guys this was a long wait but I played in Russia and I’m in game mode.”
Debuting behind the bench for the Capitals is Adam Oates, who served a season (2009-2010) as an assistant coach with the Lightning and left a lasting impression with Steven Stamkos.
“He was probably one of the coaches I was closest to,” Stamkos said. “He made it easy to communicate with him. It was my second season and I felt that whatever you went through, a great stretch or a tough one, he knew what you were feeling and thinking.”
All season Tampa Bay will be celebrating the 20th season in franchise history. Saturday night, the team will remember its first game, Oct. 7, 1992.
That night, in a cramped and crowded Fairgrounds Expo Hall, the Lightning upset the Chicago Blackhawks 7-3, behind four goals by journeyman Chris Kontos. Kontos, who still holds the record for most goals in a Lightning game, will be in attendance Saturday night.
Ryan Malone-Steven Stamkos-Martin St. Louis
Cory Connacher-Vincent Lecavalier-Teddy Purcell
Adam Hall-Nate Thompson-B.J Crombeen
Tom Pyatt-Benoit Pouliot
Eric Brewer-Matthew Carle
Sami Salo-Victor Hedman
Marc-Andre Bergeron-Brian Lee
Marcus Johansson-Nicklas Backstrom-Alex Ovechkin
Wojtek Wolski-Mike Ribeiro-Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera -Jay Beagle-Joel Ward
Matt Hendricks-Mathieu Perrault-Joey Crabb
Karl Azner-John Carlson
Roman Hamrlik-Mike Green
Jeff Schultz-Tom Poti