MONTREAL — For left wing Simon Gagne, facing the Canadiens tonight at the Bell Centre is a warmup.
With 15 family members and friends in the stands from his hometown, the Quebec suburb Sainte-Foy, it will be his first chance to impress those closest to him as a member of the Lightning.
Fun? Yes. An adrenaline rush? Sure. But it is Thursday's game at Philadelphia, where the left wing starred the past 11 seasons and where he will play for the first time in an opposing uniform, that will really test his emotional fortitude.
That is why he is glad to play somewhere else the night before.
"That way I'm not going to spend too much time in Philly, be there the night before, go out to dinner. It's going to be in and out," Gagne said. "I'm just going to focus on Montreal."
Not that the Canadiens' home opener won't push the drama meter a bit. Consider:
• The annual return of Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis to their hometown.
• The first game in Montreal for coach Guy Boucher and assistants Martin Raymond and Dan Lacroix, all of whom last season were with the Canadiens' AHL affiliate in Hamilton, and all of whom are Quebec provincials.
• Tampa Bay's hiring of assistant general manager Julien BriseBois away from Hamilton. And it was the Lightning, not Montreal, that hired Steve Yzerman, an icon in Canada, as general manager.
"There's a lot of people saying Tampa is the No. 2 team in Quebec," Renaud Lavoie, who covers the Canadiens for the RDS TV network in Montreal, said of the province. "If (the game) turns ugly, the fans could cheer for Tampa to put pressure on Montreal."
It only is Gagne, though, who has stakes in Montreal and Philadelphia, and who faces homecomings on consecutive days.
Gagne, 30, just hopes he doesn't get booed.
Fans can be mean in Philadelphia. Santa Claus once was booed at an Eagles game. "So you never know," Gagne said.
It would be a shame. Gagne scored 259 goals for the Flyers, scored 40 twice, was a two-time All-Star and lifted the team in last season's playoffs with nine goals and 12 points in 19 games.
But the Flyers needed salary-cap space, so Gagne was traded for defenseman Matt Walker.
"I don't know if it's going to be tough or special; maybe a mix of both," Gagne said about being in the Wachovia Center. "I'll try … to go in the right locker room."
Gagne has fit in well with the Lightning, and though without a point in Saturday's opening win over the Thrashers, his screen of goalie Chris Mason was key on Lecavalier's goal.
"But that's Gagne," Boucher said. "He does the little things right. He does the little things to win. He's a tremendous player."
Still, Lecavalier said Gagne is "really going to have to focus" the next two games.
"He's played almost every year in the playoffs, so he can handle pressure," Lecavalier said. "But it's not even pressure, it's the excitement, the emotions."
"You still get a feeling for the people you were working with," Gagne said. "I'm not talking about the players but the people outside, people working in the building. That's going to be the tough part. I never really had a chance to say goodbye. But from the hockey side, it's over. I'm a Lightning now. It's time to say, 'Okay, I'm with a new team.' "
So are Boucher and his assistants. So is BriseBois. So is Dominic Moore, who played for Montreal last season but signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent.
It will be enough to drive the always cantankerous and abundant Montreal media to even greater levels of frenzy.
"We played in Montreal two games last year," Boucher said of his Hamilton team, "and it was a zoo, so I'm expecting that again."
This is different, though. Boucher was once a potential Canadiens coach. He and Raymond played and coached at Montreal's McGill University.
And Boucher, 39, the NHL's youngest coach, was at the forefront of a mass brain drain from the Canadiens to the Lightning.
"I didn't coach the Canadiens. I was only part of the organization," Boucher said, trying to keep things calm. "For us, it's about the players focusing on the task."
St. Louis knows the drill. Answer all questions from the French media first and then answer again in English.
"It's going to be a media frenzy, for sure," he said. "But I don't think it becomes a distraction. You guys have your time to ask questions … and once that's done, we're playing hockey.
"Do I get a little emotional when I get to Montreal? Sure. I grew up there idolizing the Canadiens. But is it a distraction? No. I think it's a motivation more than anything."
Times two for Gagne.