GS: This time of the year, John, we're used to writing about Lightning layoffs. How cool is it to be writing about Lightning playoffs instead?
JR: Yeah, we had gotten spoiled there for a while. With Lecavalier, St. Louis, Boyle and Richards around, it seemed like the Lightning would be in contention until we were too old to care. Nothing like being one of a half-dozen chump markets to miss out on the past three years to make you realize how much you like playoff beards.
GS: Which, of course, begs the question: Can this team stay alive past the stubble? How far will it go?
JR: They'll make it out of the driveway but not too far down the road. Given the right circumstances, the Lightning could upset any team in the conference. I just don't think you can count on that series after series.
GS: I agree. They can play well enough to get to the second round, which would be a nice feat. But I don't think they're consistent enough for a deep run. Still, this season feels like a fresh start, and that's something.
JR: This is almost like gambling with house money. The roster was being groomed for 2012 and beyond, and so making the playoffs this season was like a happy windfall. Tell me, Gary, how does the Lightning make the most of it?
GS: Win. Play with that free-flowing attack that has been there at their best times. They've won the fans back, but now it's time to show everyone else how fun they can be.
JR: The last two times the Lightning made the playoffs (in 2006 and '07), it was almost a letdown. Those guys seemed more talented than their place in the standings, and they got bounced both times without much drama in the first round. This time it feels different. This team has squeezed a lot of production out of a flawed roster. If they approach this series with a nothing-to-lose mind-set, it could be a memorable two weeks.
GS: You know what it feels like, John? It feels like a start. It feels like the cowboys really have gone. Is Roloson too old? Is Hedman too young? Has Stamkos been body-snatched? It'll be interesting to see.
JR: To answer your questions: Yes, yes, and we're still waiting on DNA results. But in a way, it makes this series more intriguing, doesn't it? Eighty-two games later, there is still an unknown quality to this team.
GS: Hitchcock couldn't figure this team out. Rubik couldn't. I certainly can't. Look, the goalie is always the key in hockey. But in your frozen-numb opinion, which Lightning player has to be great for the team to advance?
JR: Stamkos, Stamkos, Stamkos. You can sorta assume certain results from Marty and Vinny. Roloson will be good, but it's too much to ask for great. Stamkos has to find his game for the Lightning to win. What do you say?
GS: Marty, Marty, Marty. He's still the energy drink around here. Stamkos would be great, but Marty is essential.
JR: Nice to know we can still count on one of us being absolutely wrong.