Bolts get off to good start in title defense

by Gary Shelton on January 14, 2021

in general

Vasilevskiy stopped 22 shots in victory./TIM WIRT

Thursday, 3 a.m.

The boys are back, and for a night, it was as if they never left.

Andrei Vasilevskiy nearly had a shutout in a 5-1 victory over Chicago. Steven Stamkos scored a goal. Victor Hedman was a terror once again.

Yeah, you recognize those guys, don't you? They're the same bunch that won the Stanley Cup. Granted, it''s hard to draw clues to an entire season from one game, but the Bolts looked just fine.

However, throughout its history, Tampa Bay has had a problem with its teams repeating successful seasons. Remember the Bucs winning the Super

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Bowl after the 2002 season. They limped to a 7-9 finish the next season. Remember the Rays going to the 2008 World Series? They were 30 games under .500 the following year. And the first time the Bolts won the Cup, heck, the league didn't even play the next year.

And so, when you heard that Nikita Kucherov was out for the year following hip surgery, perhaps you worried. Forget the part about the bad omen; that meant the Bolts are going to have to play their season without one of the finest forwards in the NHL, a playmaker who lifts his teammates.

Wednesday, it wasn't a problem. The Bolts scored three goals in the first period and won without breaking a sweat.

Scoring for the Bolts were Ondrej Palat, Mattiheu Joseph, Anthony Cirelli, Stamkos and Brayden Point.

Vasilevskiy stopped 22 of 23 shots.

The highlight might have been Stamkos, who has battled injuries for almost a year. He had a goal in a brief playoff appearance, but after Wednesday, said he felt the best he has felt.

"I haven't played a lot of hockey in a long time, so this was a good start," he said.

Stamkos will be needed. Kucherov has had 152 goals in the last four seasons, including last year's abbreviated one.

“It’s probably going to continue be a work in progress," Stamkos said."You can't replace a guy like Kuch. He's so dynamic. It's going to be tough."

Lightning coach Jon Cooper was happy to see Stamkos score.

"You hope for that," he said. "I’s a confidence thing as well. He was battling this injury even before the season was stopped in March. The physical pain aside, it's the mental grind. You want to see him have success when he comes back."

The Bolts have opened at home seven straight seasons, and the've won them all.

Tampa Bay is home again Friday night, also against Chicago. The game begins at 7 p.m.

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