TAMPA — Finally, after practice after practice, and interview after interview talking about it, F Mathieu Joseph made his NHL debut Saturday.
It was no surprise that he made the Lightning roster, not after the preseason and camp he put together. Joseph scored four goals in the preseason and finished with eight points. It seemed more likely than not that he would make the opening-day roster the further training camp progressed.
But from the time GM Julien BriseBois told Joseph, 21, he made the team out of camp until Saturday's season opener against the Panthers at Amalie Arena, he had a full week to think about it.
A week filled with anticipation, nerves, excitement and … waiting.
Sitting in his locker-room stall hours before his debut, Joseph had to pause for several seconds to try to put into words what Saturday meant to him.
"Ah, I think it's … it's a big accomplishment," he said. "Being drafted in junior is an accomplishment. Being drafted into the NHL is a big accomplishment, playing in a first preseason game and playing an NHL game."
The opener provided a new opportunity for forwards Adam Erne and Anthony Cirelli, who played in their first opening-day NHL game.
"It's a lot more exciting," Cirelli said. "You're ready to get going. I just feel like the mood in the room is that we are really ready to go."
Coach Jon Cooper said Friday that he doesn't try to give players who are making debuts too much advice. They will have plenty of time to think about staying in the NHL, so Cooper does not like to tell them to keep an even keel.
"You don't want to take the excitement out of what truly is an exciting time," Cooper said. "If they make a mistake, so be it, as long as they are doing it as hard as they can. And have fun with this, because you only get one debut. The last thing I want these kids to do is be thinking too much."
Johnson misses opener
After dealing with an upper-body injury for the past two weeks, C Tyler Johnson was ruled out of the opener after the morning skate.
"Hopefully next Thursday, we will have good news on Johnson," Cooper said.
The Lightning next plays against the Canucks on Thursday at Amalie Arena.
Thursday, Cooper deemed Johnson — using a football injury term — questionable for the Panthers. Cooper said he would use Friday and Saturday to determine if Johnson was ready to play.
Though the Lightning preferred to have the former All-Star in the lineup, it was just one game and they do not want to rush Johnson back with 81 games ahead before the postseason.
"He's strong, plays well defensively and he can score goals," Florida D Aaron Ekblad said. "He is one of their valued players."
The Panthers were not strangers to the Lightning. Far from it.
The teams faced each other in three consecutive preseason matches to end the exhibition season.
Despite the familiarity, it didn't mean there were no surprises Saturday.
"I think both teams were guarded in preseason and training camp, how much we wanted to show each other," Panthers coach Bob Boughner said. "I know there are a few things that we didn't want to roll out."