It has been a long time since we saw the Lightning in person. In fact, 287 days.
When last here at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, April 2, the Lightning had way more scratches and scrapes than Band-Aids to cover them.
Other than 60-goal scorer Steven Stamkos, there wasn't a whole lot to crow about.
A powerless power play. A shaky defense. And the goaltending? What goaltending?
Add it all up, and it was well short of the points needed for a playoff spot.
But the biggest issue of all was the dark cloud of a work stoppage in the distance that threatened to shut down the sport for who knew how long.
Well, after a summer spent repairing, repatching and rebuilding the roster and a lockout that delayed the start of the season by more than three months, the Lightning finally took the ice Saturday night.
So what did we see? More important, what did we learn? Yes, it was only one game and a sloppy game at that. That was expected after the long layoff and short training camp. Nevertheless, here are five things we learned.
The new scoreboard is awesome
Rumors were the new $5 million scoreboard would be the greatest thing in hockey since the Zamboni and fans would watch it more than the game. It doesn't quite go from one end of the rink to the other, but the 50-foot wide, 28-foot high scoreboard is easily the most impressive in the NHL, and it might be the coolest scoreboard this side of Cowboys Stadium. But the action on the ice still takes precedence.
The fans forgave
Any thoughts that the fans would hold a grudge after the second lockout over the past eight years were erased before the game started when the Lightning announced it was sold out.
The Times Forum was charged up during the pregame ceremonies, which included a thank-you from captain Vinny Lecavalier, and the buzz stayed in the building throughout the game. The fans clearly have forgiven the league for the lockout and appeared simply ecstatic that hockey was back.
"They're still here, and they're still great," Lightning founder Phil Esposito said. "The fans have been terrific. This is just as good as any market in hockey."
The big dogs on this team can still bark
And bite, too.
On a night when the Lightning celebrated the 20-year history of the franchise, the two best players in franchise history continue to lead the way.
Marty St. Louis, looking more like 27 than the actual 37 he is, had a pair of goals. Lecavalier, in his 999th game, had a goal, an assist and one of the most hellacious checks you're ever going to see.
As time goes along, the Lightning gradually will have to rely more and more on its younger stars. There's Stamkos, of course. And there are players such as Teddy Purcell, Victor Hedman and newcomer Cory Conacher, who helped ice the win with his first NHL goal in the third.
But St. Louis and Lecavalier are not just around for their on-ice experience and off-ice leadership. They remain critical parts of the Lightning engine.
The new No. 1 goalie
What we learned about Anders Lindback is … we didn't learn a lot. He wasn't bad. He wasn't spectacular. He could have been a tad better, but he could have been much worse.
He didn't wow, but he isn't a cause for concern yet either.
He gave up three goals. Maybe he could've had one or two, but he certainly couldn't be blamed for any of them either.
All in all, we have to see more.
It's a good start
As Lightning fans filed out, there was much to like.
The stars played like stars. Reliable veterans such as Eric Brewer, Nate Thompson and Adam Hall were reliable. The bright, young prospects such as Conacher played like bright, young prospects. And key new parts such as Lindback, Sami Salo and Matt Carle played like key new parts.
It's only one game. But it was a good start.
Best of all, it was a start.