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Opening Night Preview: Lightning vs. Blackhawks

January 12, 2021, 11:49 PM ET [9 Comments]
Michael Stuart
Tampa Bay Lightning Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
With only a few months having passed since the Tampa Bay Lightning captured the Stanley Cup in Edmonton, their quest to go back-to-back begins on Wednesday night, as they open the 2021 season against the Chicago Blackhawks. Prior to puck drop at Amalie Arena, Tampa will unveil the banner commemorating their historic championship.

Despite being projected to finish near the bottom of the standings, the Blackhawks remain one of the National Hockey League’s favourite sons. They may have “earned” primetime billing against the defending Stanley Cup champions on opening night, but make no mistake: This is a game that the Bolts should win. Almost all of the publicly available models put the Blackhawks squarely within the vicinity of the league’s basement, while the Lightning are once again expected to compete for the Cup.

Of course, one of the major reasons that the Bolts are expected to compete is that Julien BriseBois has managed to keep the band essentially together. He re-signed all of the team’s key restricted free agents, and managed to do so (thanks to a Nikita Kucherov injury) without jettisoning a major piece. The loss of someone like Kevin Shattenkirk hurts, but Cal Foote looks ready to make his mark. He will make his NHL debut on Wednesday after having spent two full seasons with Syracuse in the American Hockey League.

Outside of the Shattenkirk/Foote swap, things look much the same for Jon Cooper’s Lightning. There are minor tweaks around the edges, but the big pieces are all still in place. Brayden Point is ready to do his thing. Steven Stamkos is healthy. Victor Hedman remains a Norris favorite. All three are expected to be in the lineup tomorrow:

There are, quite simply, a multitude of reasons for optimism as this new campaign begins.

The same can’t be said for the Blackhawks. Firmly in the middle of a rebuild, Chicago finds itself paying the price for a decade of ultra competitiveness – don’t be fooled, those days are coming for the Lightning too. The loss of Kirby Dach to injury at the World Junior Championship and Jonathan Toews to a medical issue for the foreseeable future doesn’t help their cause. This isn’t the same Blackhawks team that beat the Lightning in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow night, though, it’s just nice to be talking hockey again. Hopefully the Lightning can deliver moments that distract us from the impact that COVID-19 is having on the world around us.

As always, thanks for reading.
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