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Maintaining the Thunder

Photo: Kent Glisson

If you’re reading this article, there is a good chance that you’ve been missing Lightning hockey these past few months. But when last we saw our beloved boys in blue, they were playing their 105th game of the season. A game that had our collective hearts pounding, as we clung to our hope for a Game 7 and a chance at a historic “3peat”. Alas, that dream fell just short. And now, here we are. Poised for game 1 of 82 (and hopefully, at least 16 more after that) on Tuesday night. But how do we get our level of excitement back? How do we motivate ourselves for these early games when for many of us, our hearts are still reeling from that fateful game 105? How do we maintain that thunder?

The Letdown Can Be Real

One of the Lightning’s most lackluster performances last year came on October 12th. Opening game. The excitement was palpable. The city prepared for our back-to-back champs to return to the ice where they had won their second consecutive Stanley Cup just a few months earlier. And yet, once the puck was dropped, it quickly became clear that this was not Lightning playoff hockey anymore. We felt the letdown, as we realized we were just at game 1 of a new season.

Will this season’s start be any different? Unfortunately for Bolts fans, just 2 games in October are home games. We will need to continue our role as the distant thunder as our boys travel the country. There are a few games across the Eastern Conference and later in the month, the team heads out west for a few games. Only time will tell how long it takes for the players to find their game this year. Perhaps, they will have it from the start. Or perhaps, it will take a little while. But there are a few reasons for us, as fans, to keep our enthusiasm high, continue to be the thunder, and not allow for an emotional letdown.

Every Point Matters

There’s an old saying about games at the beginning being worth the same 2 points as games down the stretch. In 2022, the Lightning finished third in their division, fifth in the conference, and 8th overall in the league. They had one of the toughest roads to the final in NHL history. Perhaps, a few more points in the early games of the season could have earned them some slightly easier matchups in the playoffs. At the very least, those points could have provided them a home-ice advantage, which might have helped mitigate some of the fatigue they were experiencing.

Another positive note to the Lightning success over recent years is the rivalries we’ve managed to develop with teams in our division. We take pride in our playoff victories in the “Battle of Florida” the past two years. We know the Leafs will be out for revenge after their heart-breaking loss in game seven last season. And our feud with the Bruins has been going on for several years now. Of course, it is a thrill to beat any of those teams in the playoffs. But it is also fun to be the thunder as we jockey for position (and potential home-ice advantage) with our rivals throughout the regular season. Every point helps our cause!

Counting Our Blessings

Most important, we need to count our blessings, and remember how lucky we are as fans of this Lightning team. Think for a moment of the pressure on some of the other teams. There are teams in the league that have not made the playoffs for the past eleven seasons (a stretch in which the Lightning have made it to six Conference Finals and four Stanley Cup Finals and won two Stanley Cup Championships). There are teams that have not made it past the first round of the playoffs in close to twenty years (a span in which the Lightning have won three Stanley Cups). The pressure is on these teams to prove that this season can be different. But there is no pressure on the Lightning. They have already proven themselves. They will go down in history as one of the best franchises ever in the NHL.

Bolts fans can sit back and enjoy the cat-like reflexes and brilliant saves of the greatest goaltender in the world. Some nights, we will marvel at the unmatched hockey IQ of superstar Nikita Kucherov and at the speed of a healthy Brayden Point. Others, we will cheer on the best captain in the league, Steven Stamkos who, at age 32, is quite possibly playing the best hockey of his career. We will get to watch our Norris Trophy winning defenseman, Victor Hedman, totally shut down the opposition or blast an amazing shot past an unexpecting goalie. And of course, we can look forward to watching possible breakout seasons for other key players.

The Bolts have nothing to prove. They have the heart of a champion. We, as fans, have the rare priviledge of being able to sit back and enjoy the ride. They are the Lightning. And whether it’s game one of the season or game 23 of the playoffs, it’s our job to continue to be the thunder!

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