On Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving in the United States, the St. Louis Blues are coming to town to take on the Tampa Bay Lightning. In years past, this has been an ok game to attend. After all, what kind of connection have the Blues and Lightning shared over the years other than “hey we both had Craig Janey at one point!”.
Now things are a little different. The Blues arrive as the defending Stanley Cup Champions. That always seems to carry a little extra cache. Back in my brief days as a partial season ticket holder, I always looked forward to seeing if certain games were on the schedule:
- Superstars - Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Brett Hull, Patrick Roy, Domick Hasek - think those types of players (yes, I am old). Nowadays it would be Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, or Pierre Engvall.
- The Dominant Teams - For me it was always the Colorado Avalanche of the Peter Forsberg Era. I just loved watching them play, especially on the power play which happened quite a bit against those Lightning teams.
- The Stanley Cup Champions - There was a certain mystique to the defending champions. They were the team that had been through all of the battles the year before and made it out on top. They were what I hoped the Lightning would one day become and it was always interesting to see the differences on the ice.
- Bobbleheads - Who doesn’t like a good bobblehead night.
The victory tour is always a mixed bag for the Stanley Cup winners. Not a broadcast or an advertisement goes by without it being mentioned. I’m sure there are radio ads on the sports stations in Tampa this week that are something along the lines of: “Come see the Lightning take on the defending Stanley Cup Champions this Wednesday.”
It’s always nice to be billed like that, but there is also the fact that teams, even bad ones, have a little extra kick to beat you on their home ice. After all, everyone wants to play their best game against the Champs. When the Lightning were bad, oh so very bad, if they managed to beat the Red Wings or Devils or Avalanche in the year following one of their Cup victories, it seemed like an extra special win. Sure they may only have had ten wins on the season by the middle of January, but one of those was against the defending Stanley Cup Champions!
Now, of course, the Lightning have different goals in mind. They themselves are considered Stanley Cup contenders and the Blues present an obstacle on their way to that goal. Much like last week when they met, St. Louis presents a bit of a measuring stick on if the Lightning have righted their wayward ways this season. Beating Anaheim or the Blackhawks is one thing. They’re not expected to be a big factor in the playoffs this season.
St. Louis on the other hand is expected to defend their crown. They have 33 points (second most in the Western Conference) and are 7-2-2 on the road and 6-2-2 in their last ten games. They have veterans and young players (although no Vladimir Tarasenko is huge bummer) and while billed as a rough and tumble team are actually quite skilled. The 3-1 win against the Lightning in St. Louis earlier this year was proof of that.
A win against the Blues would be a good sign that Tampa Bay really has turned their season around. While a win would be nice, a solid if not dominating performance would be even better. St. Louis is a defensively sound team and if the Lightning are able to generate offense against them it’ll be a good sign that things are on the right track.
One of the great disappointments as a Lightning fan is that Tampa Bay never got their tour after they won the Cup. Due to the lockout the following season and the way rosters were torn down due to the salary cap, that group of players never had a chance to defend their title. Nikolai Khabibulin was gone. Key contributors like Brad Lukowich and Cory Stillman were with different teams. By the time hockey was back under way, they were just another team.
The Blues returned almost their entire playoff roster from last year. Twenty-two of the twenty-three players came back to start the season. The one player who didn’t - Pat Maroon, forward for your Tampa Bay Lightning. Not many teams, especially in the salary cap era, have the ability to truly defend a cup they won the prior year.
Plus, it’s the day before Thanksgiving. What else are you going to do? Go to a bar with your old high school friends you haven’t seen in a few years? Hang out at an airport and watch human misery on mass display? Wouldn’t you rather go watch some hockey? The holidays are in full swing and the crowd tends to be a bit more festive during this time of year. It’s usually a really fun time to watch the games live.
So jump on Stubhub and grab a few tickets to see the game. Not only do you get to see one of the best teams in hockey (despite their record) in the Lightning, you may also get to see them take down the defending champs.
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