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Even in this year’s opener, Lightning can’t escape last year’s flop

Martin Fennelly: Can Tampa Bay turn the page? “Easier said than done.”
Center Steven Stamkos (91) and the Lightning open the season at home Thursday against the Florida Panthers.
Center Steven Stamkos (91) and the Lightning open the season at home Thursday against the Florida Panthers. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Oct. 2, 2019|Updated Oct. 2, 2019

TAMPA – Has there ever been a team that wants to turn the page as much the Lightning? Maybe not even turn the page. They’d like to burn the whole book. But not before they commit a passage or two to memory.

Here’s a keeper:

“It’s easier said than done,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said.

The 2018-19 62-win Lightning emphatically proved that as they were swept from their Stanley Cup dreams by the Columbus Blue Jackets. It took but four games, one week.

Tonight, the Lightning begin to turn the page on their infamous flop when they open the 2019-20 season at Amalie Arena against their alleged intrastate rival, the Florida Panthers.

But some things won’t go away.

Take, for instance, that in net for Florida will be its new goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, the same Bobrovsky who shut down the Lightning last April.

Or that among the new Panthers are former Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman as well as former Lightning winger Brett Connolly, who came over in the offseason from Washington, where he won the Stanley Cup, you know, after the Caps beat the Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals.

And the Panthers are now coached by Joel Quenneville, who won the Cup three times in Chicago, three more times than his friend, Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who remains stuck on zero.

It will happen all season, no let-up. The fold last season will trail the Lightning until they make people forget it, and there is only one way to do that. Until then, they will be skating around ghosts and tombstones.

“I’m kind of looking forward to turning the page on last year,” Cooper said. “But do you really put it away? It’s in some record book somewhere. It’s going to be detailed forever. You don’t ever really put it away. I really do believe the start of the season kind of shuts the door a little bit. But it’s going to be opened up the first time we go into … other arenas.”

They dove for cover in the offseason. They got away. They tried to block out “outside noise,” Hedman said. But it was there just the same.

“What happened?” was the question of the summer.

“So many people asked me,” said Lightning forward Alex Killorn. “You got tired of it after a while.”

Lightning captain Steven Stamkos and his wife welcomed a baby, their first. Caring for newborns can be as grueling as any seven-game playoff series, but the joy is immeasurable. But last season never truly went away.

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“It’s still there,” Stamkos said. “But this is a new season.”

They still wonder what happened, how it all fell apart that quickly, that historically. The tried to bury it. The question persisted. People asked, though it went in phases, Cooper said.

"To be honest they were scared to bring it up or talk about it. Then came a little bit of the, probably I would say a month after that, then people had the courage to ask you what happened and you would just talk about it. And then, the month after that, they made fun of you."

“I kind of got away,” Killorn said. “I didn’t watch much of the playoffs. I just didn’t want to watch it. But I watched the last series. Just because I felt I could learn something, not learn something, but maybe refresh my memory on what it takes to win. Game 7, I’d never watched a game as intensely as I watched that game. I thought after the first half of the first period, Boston was going to win like 5-0. They were absolutely owning the play. But once St. Louis scored a goal, momentum shifts are so great. You never know.”

We still don’t know about the Lightning.

And away we go.

The noise remains. The door stays open.

“We have a lot to prove, a lot,” Killorn said.

It’s easier said than done.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

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