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Lightning know winning Stanley Cup opener isn’t everything

Tampa Bay has never won a Game 1 in the NHL’s championship series but has won the Cup twice.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) is congratulated by his team following a win over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 2 of the second round earlier this month in Raleigh, N.C.
Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy (88) is congratulated by his team following a win over the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 2 of the second round earlier this month in Raleigh, N.C. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 28
Updated Jun. 28

TAMPA — Emotions surely will be high for tonight’s Stanley Cup final opener at Amalie Arena, but history shows that if the Lightning don’t win Game 1, fans shouldn’t panic.

In their three previous Cup final appearances, the Lightning never won Game 1 but still clinched two of those series, including last year against the Dallas Stars.

The Lightning don’t expect to to be awed by the moment. Still, it will be different playing in front of their home crowd tonight after winning last year’s Cup in the bubble in Edmonton.

“Maybe we’re a little bit less, it’s not starstruck, but we’ve been there,” Lightning forward Blake Coleman said. “It doesn’t take away from the excitement. Any time you’re in the Stanley Cup final, there’s no better place to be. It’s still our dream to be here, whether you’ve been here before or not.

“We know how hard it is to get here. … It’s just business as usual for us. We’re gonna play the same game and have the same approach, but like I said, it’s just it’s fun to share it with everybody.”

A Montreal team that hasn’t been to the Cup final since 1993 will attempt to harness its emotions out of the gate.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of emotion going into the first game of the Stanley Cup final,” said Canadiens forward Josh Anderson, who played the Lightning each of the previous two postseasons with Columbus. “It’s so important, so I think you’re just going to get a tight and close game — a lot of emotion, a lot of guys being physical out there.”

The Lightning dropped the series opener to the Stars 4-1 last season, then won the next three games to take a commanding 3-1 series lead before winning in six games.

Tampa Bay also lost Game 1 in their first trip to the final in 2004, falling to Calgary 4-1. The Flames took a 3-2 series lead, but the Lightning won Game 6 in Calgary and Game 7 in Tampa.

In the Lightning’s 2015 Stanley Cup final loss to Chicago, Tampa Bay dropped Game 1 by a 2-1 score, then won the following two games before dropping the next three, losing in six games.

Even as recently as the Lightning’s semifinal series against the Islanders this season, they lost to New York at home in Game 1, then won four of six to clinch the series in seven games.

Add the fact the Lightning are 13-0 after a loss the past two postseasons. So, while winning Game 1 would be great for setting the tone, it isn’t essential for reclaiming the Cup.

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