With last season and lockout behind them, Bolts’ new quest begins tonight

Saturday, 01.19.2013 / 10:31 AM
Peter Pupello  - Lightning Beat Reporter

Every new journey begins with a small first step.

But, considering for a moment the abbreviated schedule, the Tampa Bay Lightning are hoping the beginning of their quest actually takes off with more of a giant leap.

That is, after all, what needs to happen tonight as the Lightning open up the season against the division-rival Washington Capitals at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.

The intensity will be high. Urgency might look more like desperation. Each game will have a playoff feel.

“It’s going to be like running a 100-yard sprint without any warmups,” forward Martin St. Louis said.

Come to think of it, whereas a traditional 82-game season is likened to more of a marathon than a sprint, this season is already shaping up to be just the opposite.

Lightning head coach Guy Boucher reiterated all week the importance of the team getting off to a fast start. There will be no time to dwell on losses, or even endure a two, or even a three-game losing streak.

“We can’t really worry about that,” forward Teddy Purcell said. “Focus on what we can control, and that’s going out and putting our best foot forward every night.”

“There is definitely going to be urgency from the first period of the first game all the way until the last period of the last game,” Boucher added. “Every game is going to be one of those that just means so much.”

Including tonight’s matchup against a competitive Capitals team.

Washington made it to within just one game of reaching the Eastern Conference Final last season, and still bears the memory of being swept out of the previous year’s playoffs in four straight games by the Bolts.

The Lightning, however, are also hungry to make a strong return to the postseason after failing to qualify for the playoffs last spring.

That, for the most part, will depend on the impact of the team’s new acquisitions acquired throughout the offseason.

Defensemen Matt Carle and Sami Salo should help improve the power play by serving as a true quarterback, as well as provide support on the back end in front of new goaltender Anders Lindback.

For added scoring depth, Benoit Pouliot appears to be a solid addition to the third line, as does BJ Crombeen, who brings somewhat of a scoring touch to go along with his gritty style of play.

Could those five players alone, though, be the key to returning the Lightning to the status of playoff contenders?

That’s what we’re going to find out.

Beginning tonight, each team and its new personnel sets out on its respective path, facing a distinct set of challenges, but sharing a mutual vision of achieving the same goal.

“It’s a fresh start for everybody,” forward Steven Stamkos said. “Every team is in the same boat where they’re all starting with the same record. There’s really no use thinking about the last few months and what should have been or what could have been, you just have to take what we’re given which is a 48-game schedule and make the most of it. But, I think the coaching staff has done a pretty good job of getting us focused for tonight and having us ready to get down to business.”

Added Purcell, “it’s going to be a grind, so let’s roll.”

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