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Lightning enter camp with 'something to prove'(w/video)

You could sense a determined, motivated group of Lightning players as they reported Thursday for the start of training camp.

The long summer - a result of missing the playoffs for the first time in four years - gave them a lot to think about.

And they vowed that it won't happen again.

"Guys are hungry," veteran wing Ryan Callahan said. "I think we've got something to prove."

This same group went on back-to-back lengthy playoff runs, making it to the Stanley Cup Final just three years ago, and the Eastern Conference Final two years ago. Having the extended break allowed many players to get healthier, especially captain Steven Stamkos and Callahan.

"The guys are anxious to get back and prove to ourselves and everyone we're not gonna let what happened last year happen again," Stamkos said. "Last year was unacceptable."

The talk is the easy part, the Lightning knows it has to prove it on the ice. A focus is getting off to a better start, something that's plagued them the past two seasons. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy notes the Lightning was one of the best teams in the league down the stretch, but an 18-6-5 run to end the season fell a point short of a playoff spot.

There's more of a veteran, experienced feel with this team, and not just because of free agent acquisitions Dan Girardi and Chris Kunitz. The core, which has been together for 4-5 years, its in its prime.

"Right now is our time to really succeed," Alex Killorn said. "We all have a certain amount of years in this league and we have to use these years in the right way. Because at a certain point, it's going to be too late."

More from today's player availability:

*Several Lightning players talked about the fear surrounding the weekend's Hurricane Irma, noting they were fortunate the team flew them to Nashville out of harms way. They spoke about giving back to community as it regroups.

*Stamkos reiterated his surgically-repaired right knee feels the best it has since the mid-November procedure. He pointed out the last month and a half he made a great progression, and will have no restrictions when the first practice comes Friday in Brandon. Stamkos plans to play in the exhibition opener Tuesday and might play in more games than usual to test his knee.

*Callahan noted he feels a "180" difference from last year, when his surgically-repaired hip nagged him all season. But a follow-up February procedure has him to the point where he's not even thinking about it any more, which will allow him to play his physical game.

*Andrei Vasilevskiy said he didn't change any of his training before entering his first camp as No. 1 goalie. But teammates sense a maturity in the 23-year-old Russian, believing he can be among the best goalies in the league.

*Stamkos isn't sure how the lines will play out - noting they will change - but said he'd love to play with Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov again, like they did the beginning of last season. "We had great chemistry," he said.

*Vasilevskiy on Nikita Kucherov, who was an MVP candidate last season: "He's one of the best now. And I think he'll be even better this season. Good for us."

*Looks like the Lightning will hold more training camp practices in Brandon (which has two ice sheets), including Friday, Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. All are open to the public from around 9 a.m.-2 p.m.

*Speaking of practice, if you want to read into practice groups, prospects Mathieu Joseph, Brett Howden and Anthony Cirelli are in the early group (Team Andreychuk) with Stamkos, Kucherov, Callahan and Vasilevskiy. Taylor Raddysh and Mitchell Stephens are in second group (Team St. Louis) with Johnson, Palat, Point, Killorn, Hedman.

More to come, with coach Jon Cooper and Steve Yzerman addressing the media this afternoon.

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