TAMPA — The Lightning’s ring ceremony Thursday night gave the team one last opportunity to celebrate its back-to-back Stanley Cup championships.
As coach Jon Cooper says, banners are for the fans and rings are the players, and owner Jeff Vinik wasted no expense putting on a lavish event at his home worthy of the Lightning’s rare feat — complete with a surprise performance by chart-topping rock group Fall Out Boy.
“Poof, all of a sudden Fall Out Boy is playing,” Cooper said. “You’re like, ‘What else is going to happen here?’ I’ve been in this organization a decade now, and right when you think you’ve seen it all with the Viniks they continue to top it. It was an experience that I will never forget.”
Championship rings were presented in sumptuous white boxes that played a highlight video when opened. Players sent videos to former teammates now on other teams. And the Stanley Cup had a front row seat for it all.
But once the party ended, the photos were posted on social media and Fall Out Boy finished its first backyard concert since 2002, it marked the epilogue to the Lightning reliving last season’s success.
“It’s probably symbolic that (the ring’s) got ‘Last Day of School’ inside, because I think (Thursday) night was the last time we should be thinking about last year,” Cooper said. “And it was well deserved. I’m so glad we got to experience that, for the most part, and even the guys that weren’t there, videos were sent in and I know they were part of it during the night. Everybody was texting them.
“But that was last year, and we got to be with the Stanley Cup one more time. But now it’s time to go win some hockey games, and that was our focus from the moment we got in (Friday) morning and going forward. That was their closing chapter.”
The Lightning reported to practice in a different frame of mind.
They have many things to address following their 2-2-0 start, including an offense that has sputtered out of the gate, held to two or fewer goals in three of their first four games. They have to fix a power-play unit that was 0-for-6 in Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to the Panthers. And they have to fill the tremendous void created by star forward Nikita Kucherov’s indefinite absence.
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“(Thursday) night brought back a lot of memories for the guys,” defenseman Victor Hedman said. “You kind of relive that moment. (Friday), the date has turned, and you get ready for (Saturday).”
They’ve had a few days to regroup since Tuesday’s loss, and on Saturday night they’ll host a team that has faced similar early-season struggles.
Both the Lightning and Avalanche have been pegged among the favorites to win this season’s Cup, but Colorado will arrive at Amalie Arena with a 1-3-0 record and its own set of offensive issues. The Avalanche lost their third straight game — matching their longest losing streak of last season — 4-1 to the Panthers Thursday in Sunrise.
It was the first time this season Colorado’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen played together after MacKinnnon missed the first two games following a positive COVID test and Landeskog was suspended for two games. One of the NHL’s top forward lines, the trio was a minus-2 on Thursday.
Because of last season’s regionalized schedule realignment, the Lightning haven’t played the Avalanche since Feb. 17, 2020. Tampa Bay won 4-3 on an overtime goal by Kucherov.
“It’s been a long time,” Hedman said. But, you know, we’re looking forward to a great challenge. They’re a phenomenal team, a lot of speed and some really good players, so it will be a good test for us (Saturday). Both teams are looking to bounce back, obviously.”
The Avalanche rank 19th in the league in scoring, and after a 0-for-3 showing against the Panthers are a woeful 1-for-14 on the power play, third-to-last in the league.
“I think most people have probably picked the Lightning to make the playoffs and most people picked Colorado to make the playoffs,” Cooper said. “And we have a combined record of, what is it, 3-5? So we’re not, I think, where either of us would like to be at this point, but we’re only four games in.
“But I think both teams are probably going to be a little crusty going into (Saturday), given our last couple outings.”
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The Tampa Bay Times has commemorated the Lightning’s second consecutive Stanley Cup title with a new hardcover coffee table book, Striking Twice. Order now.
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