TAMPA, Fla. (AP) - The Tampa Bay Lightning brought in the new season with a long-awaited celebration with their fans and a win in their first defense as NHL champions.
The Stanley Cup winners enjoyed an emotional pregame ceremony in which their giant championship banner was raised, and then the Lightning went out and beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 on Wednesday night.
``This is great. We talked about getting closure. I think we all needed that,'' playoff star Brad Richards said. ``It's been a while. Not that we're sick of hearing of it, but we've got to move on. It's not our Cup anymore. We saw it tonight for the last time, and now we'll fight like the other teams to try to get it.''
Vinny Prospal scored on the Lightning's first shot of the season, and assisted on goals by Dan Boyle and Vincent Lecavalier to help Tampa Bay build a 4-2 lead in the club's first regular-season outing since beating Calgary in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals 16 months ago.
Richards and Tim Taylor also scored for the Lightning, while John Grahame stopped 24 shots in his first test since the departure of Nikolai Khabibulin, who signed with the Chicago Blackhawks.
``We didn't play well in our last two exhibition games ... but we did switch it on tonight,'' Lecavalier said.
Radim Vrbata scored an unassisted goal for Carolina in the first period. The Hurricanes also got an unassisted goal from Eric Staal to trim Tampa Bay's lead to 3-2 early in the second period.
``We knew it would be tough playing in front of these fans, but it's frustrating because it's the worst we've executed since we got back together,'' Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. ``Still, it's a long season.''
A sellout crowd of 22,120 stood and cheered throughout a 10-minute pregame ceremony in which players, coaches and key members of the front office, including owner Bill Davidson in a rare visit for a regular-season game, were introduced individually.
The Lightning also showcased a dazzling collection of individuals awards won during the 2003-04 season, including trophies for league MVP and scoring champion (Martin St. Louis), Stanley Cup MVP (Richards) and coach of the year (John Tortorella).
``It was a terrific ceremony. And what was particularly impressive was when you look at the array of trophies that were accumulated during the Stanley Cup run,'' NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said. ``Tampa Bay had quite a season. It was emotional for everybody, including me. It's great to be back.''
Fans who couldn't get tickets were invited to watch the game on a big-screen television outside the arena, and the B-52s entertained early arrivers during a pregame concert on the plaza.
Of course the party wouldn't have been complete without the Stanley Cup, which was brought out last and placed on a stand in front of the team. The crowd roared again when the players removed two curtains cloaking the banner before it was hoisted to the rafters.
Prospal, who left Tampa Bay as a free agent the offseason before the Lightning won the championship, scored 81 seconds in.
``I wish I was never gone,'' said Prospal, who beat Martin Gerber after Ruslan Fedotenko stole a pass behind the net and centered the puck.
``But that's in the past,'' Prospal said. ``I'm just concentrating on this season.''
Gerber, obtained in a trade from Anaheim in June 2004, was removed from his Hurricanes debut because of a sore hamstring after stopping 15 of 19 shots in the first two periods. Cam Ward replaced him and gave up Taylor's goal with just over three minutes left.
``It's just Game 1 in a long season,'' said Carolina's Cory Stillman, who had mixed emotions about the Lightning's pregame celebration because he played for Tampa Bay during the championship year.
``It was strange not being out there. I just stayed backed in the locker room until it was over,'' he said. ``Coming back here, it's all part of the game. It was good to be back. I picked a good year to play here.''
Notes: Carolina's Ray Whitney was scratched because of a groin strain. ... Tampa Bay's Dave Andreychuk, beginning his 23rd season, had two assists. ... St. Louis, last season's scoring champion with 38 goals and 56 assists, was limited to one shot Wednesday night.
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