By Leo Haggerty


Are you ready for some hockey? Before I get into all the pageantry that surrounded Tampa Bay hoisting their second consecutive Stanley Cup Championship banner, I want to take a moment to personally thank the Bolts.

Its Sports Magazine has been granted a FULL SEASON seat in the press box for all Lightning home games. So, either myself or Senior Writer Rob Kriete or Columnist Paul Wales will be in attendance when the puck drops at Amalie Arena.

To say the atmosphere for opening night of the 2021-22 season was electric would be an understatement. Remember, my loyal readers, that the Lightning raised the 2020-21 flag in an empty venue so this one, in front of a sellout crowd packed with full throated Bolts fans, made up for missing out on last year’s festivities.

Ironically, the opponent for the Lightning just happens to be the Penguins. Pittsburgh was the last team to win back-to-back championships in 2015-16 and 2016-17.

The visiting Pens took it to the homestanding Bolts and skated away with a 6-2 triumph.  That puts the Penguins at 1-0-0 and two points in the standings.  The loss dropped the Lightning to 0-1-0 and zero points on the season.

After a scoreless opening 20 minutes, the Pens dented the scoreboard first just 12 seconds into the middle period. F Danton Heinen (1) converted a perfect pass from behind the net by F Jeff Carter (1) and blasted a point blank missile to the left of G Andrei Vasilevskiy (32 saves on 35 shots) giving Pittsburgh a 1-0 advantage.

The Penguins extended their lead at 4:11 of the second period. This time it was former Bolts F Brian Boyle (1) sliding the puck through the five-hole on Vasilevskiy. Assists were credited to F Sam Lafferty (1) along with F Drew O’Connor (1) as the Pens moved to a 2-zip lead.

The Pens stretched their margin at 11:42 of the final period. F Dominik Simon (1) made it 3-nil when he put the biscuit in the basket with the assist going to D Kris Letang (1).

The Bolts finally put a score up on the board at 14:23 of the third period. With a man advantage due to an empty net, F Anthony Cirelli (1) redirected a shot from the point behind G Tristan Jarry (28 saves on 30 shots).  D Victor Hedman (1) and F Steven Stamkos (1) recorder the helpers that cut the Penguins lead to 3-1

Pittsburgh answered just 30 seconds later.  F Teddy Blueger (1) scored an unassisted marker into an empty net on a breakaway.  That extend the Pittsburgh advantage to 4-1.

The Lightning scored another extra skater marker at 16:49 of the final period. F Alex Killorn banged home a tally with Stamkos (2) and Cirelli (1) recording the assists to pull the Bolts closer at 4-2.

The Pens scored two more empty net goals with the first at 17:35 of the third period.  F Evan Rodrigues (1) found the back of the net with an assist going to D John Marino (1) to stretch the lead to 5-2.

The Penguins posted their final empty netter with just 1:49 left in regulation and it was again of the  unassisted variety.  F Bryan Rust (1) did the honors and that closed out the score with the Pens on top by a 6-2 count.

For the first time in almost two years, I was able to attend the in-person postgame interviews.  Had a chance to query HC Jon Cooper and F Steven Stamkos as well as F Pat Maroon.  Below are their answers to my questions.

LH : You hadn’t played Pittsburgh in over two years.  Was that lack of familiarity a problem?

JC : I guess you could say it was tonight.  No, it doesn’t matter.  We could have played Pittsburgh’s farm team and got beat tonight.  We’ll get better.

LH : It seemed like the strategy that the Penguins employed was to jam the middle of the ice.  Is that just to simplistic?

SS : Like I said, they played well.  They had a plan.  Their D was very aggressive in our defensive zone pinching down.  Lots of times we tried to bank it off the boards and they were there so we got caught in our end.  There’s going to be a lot of teams who will have the game plan to clog up the middle.  We’re a skilled group.  If you give us time and space we will make plays.  Like I said, it was a team that played well tonight.  We didn’t respond to that level.  You have to give them credit.

LH : Was tonight one of those games where you just ran into a hot goalie?

PM : No, I don’t think so.  We had a couple of great shots, maybe toward the end, but I really don’t think that we challenged him tonight in my opinion.  I think he saw everything.  We didn’t have a lot of zone time.  We didn’t get pucks through the boards and pucks to the net.  It was all Pittsburgh tonight.  They just out competed us.

Now, the Bolts hit the road for a two game set starting in Detroit against the Red Wings on Thursday.  Meet you around the TV to see if the Lightning can notch that initial win of the 21-22 campaign.