TAMPA — That's how you start a season.
All the excitement. Pregame introductions. Sellout crowd chanting for Nikita Kuuuuuucherov. Big ovation for Steven Stamkos. Welcome back home, captain.
Then, bang, overcome two two-goal deficits and beat the Red Wings 6-4 Thursday with four goals in the third period. Wow.
"If that was your first hockey game," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, "that was a pretty good one to go to."
Stanley Cup, here comes the Lightning.
"It's good to get off to a good start," forward Jonathan Drouin said.
Call it a great start. Okay, so it's only one game. But what a game. What a comeback. What a way to start the season.
There's lots of talk about the Lightning winning a Stanley Cup. For good reason. This team is good. It should have a good season.
Then again, what exactly does that mean? What is a good season?
Think of it this way. A team plays for six months and if it gives its fans way more happy nights than bad then it's a good season, don't you think?
Well, maybe. Take the 2006-07 Dallas Mavericks. That team won 67 games and lost only 15. But the top-seeded Mavs were stunned in the first round of the playoffs by the eighth-seeded Warriors. Season over.
So, looking back, would you consider that a good season? There were still way more good nights and good vibes than bad that season. But the season ended well short of hopes and expectations.
That brings us back to the Lightning. Ultimately, success will be determined by what happens next April and May and, the Lightning hopes, June. Until then ‑— from now until the start of the playoffs — this should be a fun team to watch. And this should be a good season.
Over the next several months, Lightning fans have plenty to look forward to.
Remember last season when Tampa Bay stumbled and bumbled through much of the season? So much so that there were questions deep into the season of whether or not the Lightning would even make the playoffs? I don't see that happening this season. Provided it stays healthy, the Lightning seems to understand the so-called process this season, that it can't fast-forward to the postseason, that it must focus on today before thinking about tomorrow.
There might not be a more exciting team to watch. So much firepower. Stamkos. Kucherov. Ondrej Palat. A healthy Tyler Johnson, who scored Thursday's go-ahead-to-stay goal midway through the third. Alex Killorn, who added the ultimate winner. Drouin, who scored the first goal of the Tampa Bay season. Man, would you have bet last January that Drouin would score on opening night? For the Lightning?
On defense, there's Victor Hedman, who, on any given night, might be the best defenseman in hockey.
And there's Bishop, for now. Rumors are swirling that Bishop will eventually be traded to clear space under the salary cap and clear room for goalie-of-the-future Andrei Vasilevskiy to become the goalie-of-the-now. Until then, Bishop is the man. He shook off early rust and a goofy late goal to be the backbone needed to secure Thursday's victory. When he is making big-time saves to lock down another victory, you're again reminded that, with all due respect to Nikolai Khabibulin, Bishop is the best goalie in franchise history.
Thursday had it all, all that Lightning fans have come to love about this team. And it's a preview of what's to come this season.
Best of all, no soap operas like last season.
Remember? Is Stamkos going to sign or be traded? Is Drouin ever going to play again? What's wrong with Johnson? All of that seems put to rest. Stamkos is signed. Hedman is signed. Kucherov is signed. Killorn is signed. Drouin is happy. Johnson is healthy. Occasionally, you might hear a Bishop rumor pop up, but it's not something that will be a constant conversation in the Lightning locker room.
So, what does this all mean? Enjoy the season. Enjoy the ride. Enjoy following the Lightning this season. It should be good.