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Get excited! The NHL season begins Thursday night

Hockey's big three

Is there a better announcing crew in all of sports than, from left, Pierre McGuire, Mike Emrick and Ed Olczyk? No, we don't believe there is.

tom jones' two cents

The NBA season is in jeopardy because of a lockout. The Gators, Seminoles and Bulls are sputtering. So aside from the Bucs, who play just once a week, what do we have to follow for the next six months? Hockey, of course. Perfect timing now that the Rays are done. The Lightning drops the puck Friday in Carolina, but the NHL gets under way tonight with three games (including a doubleheader on Versus). Here are some reasons to be excited about the 2011-12 season:

The Lightning is the real deal

T he Lightning came within a game — a couple of measly goals, actually — of reaching the Stanley Cup final. Getting that far was a bit of a surprise. • Most believed the Lightning would be better last season. But who knew it would be that good? This season, big things are expected from the start. How big? NBC and Versus analyst Pierre McGuire believes the Lightning could break the Caps' four-year stranglehold on the Southeast Division. • "Part of the reason why is the (Steven) Stamkos factor," McGuire said. "The other part of the reason why is the (Guy) Boucher factor. I think when you do a tale of the tape and you break down coaches, you break down impact players, you break down depth on defense, they have a real chance of doing that."

Say again

Kick save and a beauty … Wicked wrister … Dumping it in … Cycling the puck … Top shelf … Five for fighting … One minute remaining in the period. … He shoots, he scores … Sin bin … Lighting the lamp Dangling the puck One-timer

­Just saying those phrases gets us ready for another hockey season

Richards to the Big Apple

Brad Richards remains popular in these parts, and it was disappointing for area fans that he didn't sign with the Lightning during the offseason. But Richards, left, signed with the next-best team, the Ran­gers. Not only is he reunited with former Lightning coach John Tortorella, Richards is now in a major market, where we can watch him play on a regular basis.

The outdoor game

For the fifth consecutive year, the NHL will stage the Winter Classic, this time on Jan. 2. The game features two marquee teams and rivals, the Flyers and Rangers, playing at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park. But the best part is HBO has signed up for another 24/7 behind-the-scenes series leading up to the game. Last season's series featuring the Pens and Caps was excellent. But this season's show should be off the charts, especially with Rangers coach John Tortorella wearing a microphone. Tortorella, a microphone and no sound effect to bleep out the bad words? Sign us up.

The old guys

Ducks wing Teemu Selanne, left, is so old (41), he played for the first Winnipeg Jets. Devils goalie Martin Brodeur is so old (39), his second win came against the Quebec Nordiques. When Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson, center, was born (42 years ago next week), the NHL had 12 teams. And when Wings defenseman Nick Lidstrom (41), right, broke into the league, current Lightning GM Steve Yzerman was only 26. Yet all are not only still playing, but going strong.

The young guys

The Lightning's Steven Stamkos is only 21. Isn't that hard to believe? Carolina's Jeff Skinner, left, is only 19. Colorado's Matt Duchene, center, is 20. The Islanders' John Tavares just turned 21. These four centers averaged 33 goals last season, including Stamkos' 45.

Get excited! The NHL season begins Thursday night 10/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 8:20pm]
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