Playoff hangover: NOW what are we supposed to do?

When deprived of something intoxicating for a long period of time, it's not uncommon to overindulge if the opportunity presents itself.

After suffering through an extended drought of postseason prohibition, during which Rick Tocchet and Brian Lawton were like Elliott Ness and Carrie Nation on steroids, Lightning fans were free to once again taste the sweet elixir of postseason hockey. And having been deprived for so long, the temptation to guzzle instead of sip may have been too powerful to ignore. Moderation is for people who don't go three years between playoff appearances.

However, having the party come to an abrupt end with last night's 1-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals means that many probably woke up this morning disoriented, dehydrated and disgusted. What to do about that splitting headache and Māori face tattoo you don't remember getting? Well, here are some remedies you can try...

The Lightning Season Post-Mortem Drinking Game - What better way to keep flogging this booze metaphor to death while calling back to Nolan Whyte's excellent "Lightning-Bruins Drinking Game" post than to start another drinking game? The rules for this one are easy. Just scan through the papers and blogs for all the season-end tribute articles (especially the edtorial columns) you can find. Every time you see the phrases, "out of nowhere", "against all odds", "overacheive", "surprise", "upset", "underdog", "bittersweet", "heartbreaking", "so close, yet so far", or any variations, throw one back. Better arrange for someone to come by and feed the cats before you start playing this one because you'll be in a coma until October.

Watch The Finals Between The Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks - What the heck, there's still hockey being played even though the Lightning are done for the year. Might as well see how this whole thing ends, right? Generally, there are two schools of thought when it comes to the question of whether or not to root for the opponent who vanquished you in the playoffs:

  1. Yes, by all means, root for the Bruins. If they win it all, it means the Lightning suffered defeat at the hands of the eventual World Champions and no one else. If the Bruins win and the series doesn't go a full seven games, that will really cast perspective on just how good and tough the Lightning were this season. After all, the Bruins won the series fair and square and the classy thing to do in the true spirit of athletic competition and good sportsmanship is to wish them the best as they go forth and represent the Eatern Conference.
  2. Screw those guys.

However you work it out is up to you.

Geek Out - Some people find the stuff that happens off the ice more fascinating than the games themselves. If this is you, you can go ahead and start scouting for the draft and free agency periods that will be here before you know it. The 2011 NHL Entry Draft will take place June 24-25 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota, home of the Minnesota Wild. Barring trades between now and then, the Lightning's first pick will be the 27th of the first round, by which time young defenders Adam Larsson, Jonas Brodin, Dougie Hamilton and Nathan Beaulieu will be long gone. A comprehensive look at the Central Scouting Rankings for all prospects can be found here.

Or if you're more inclined to be attracted to store-bought players, you can check out and for all kinds of info on free agents, unrestricted or otherwise. It's like ogling the toys in the Sears Christmas catalog when you were a kid.

ScrutinYze Our GM (see what I did there? Ha ha!) - Falling along the same lines of geeking out, you should keep a sharp eye on Lightning GM Steve Yzerman and see how he responds to the challenges he'll face this offseason. "What?!?", you scream. "Yzerman is Jedi. He is beyond questioning and he is beyond criticism. Burn the heretic!" Wait! Don't burn me; I just bought these shoes. Let me explain: Yes, Steve Yzerman was brilliant in totally breaking down and re-assembling the Lightning roster. No question about it. But he has significant challenges to deal with this year. Such as addressing the defense and goaltending positions on the current roster and navigating the salary cap while negotiating contracts with Steven Stamkos, Sean Bergenheim and Simon Gagne among others. And he's not going to be able to solve any roster problems by sneaking up on anybody any more. If he calls Flyers GM Paul Holmgren this year and says, "Hey, you guys wouldn't happen to have a bag of old pucks laying around, would you? If so, I might be interested in it", you better believe Holmgren is going to go through that bag and make sure a 1979 O-Pee-Chee Gretzky rookie card isn't tucked away in a side pocket. It's going to be interesting to see how Yzerman responds, that's all. Now untie me.

Go Shopping - As you're certainly well aware by now, the Lightning have played their last game in black and silver for the foreseeable future. Now is as good a time as any to go out and load up on new blue attire. Local merchants who jumped aboard the bandwagon a couple of weeks ago may be stuck with inventory they'd like to unload between now and next season so you might be able to find some sweet deals on t-shirts and hats and such. No word yet on when the new jerseys will be available for sale, but keep an eye out because it will probably be soon. On the other hand, if the new unis and logo aren't your style, you should be able to pick up the now "old" stuff for pennies on the dollar. Either way,get out there and spend, spend, spend. Retail therapy; good for you and good for the economy!

Show some love to the Rays - In case the Lightning's success has given you tunnel vision and you Rip Van Winkled on the start of the baseball season, the Rays are not nearly as bad as most "experts" seemed to think they would be. They're actually right in the thick of things in the battle for supremacy in the AL East Division. Again. And with the  informal mutual admiration society between Lightning head coach Guy Boucher, Rays manager Joe Maddon and Tampa Bay Buccaneersucs head coach Raheem Morris, it's totally appropriate to throw some extra support behind the other home teams.

"I hope everybody understands how great of a season that they [the Lightning] had. That's got to be the most gut-wrenching 1-0 situation like that, to lose after the season that they had. But they have nothing but to be proud of what they did. That's just a great building block for the future. We want them to come out here. A lot of them had expressed interest in taking some batting practice, and they are welcome to come out and do that." -- Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon

Wait 'til next year - Sadly, no matter what else we do, this is something we're all going to have to setlle for ultimately. At least this year, for the first time in a l-o-o-ong time, we can say that without sarcasm. All year long, everone from owner Jeff Vinik down to every player on the roster has said that the plan has been and remains to build for the future, almost like this year doesn't even count. That's like if the Beatles had released "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" and included the entire "Abbey Road" album as unlisted bonus tracks. If that's the case, any waiting we have to endure now will almost certainly be worth it.

Whatever you decide to do between now and opening night next year, please continue to make Raw Charge a part of your Tampa Bay Lightning experience. Right after we all return from the all-expenses-paid staff retreat in Tahiti that Managing Editors John Fontana and Cassie McClellan promised us, we'll get right back to the business of covering the Lightning like nobody else does.

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