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Monday, Jun 25, 2018
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Lightning host Panthers in home opener tonight at Forum

TAMPA — The buzz in the building returns, just as the Tampa Bay Lightning come back home following a successful three-game road swing to start the season.

After a 2-1 trip, Tampa Bay will open the home schedule tonight as familiar foe Florida comes to town.

“It was good to get on the road early with the guys and then to come home with four out of six points, that's a pretty good start for us,'' right wing Teddy Purcell said. “We've always been a pretty good team at home, so hopefully that momentum will carry over.''

The Lightning have spent a good portion of the past two-plus weeks away from home, having spent six days in Fort Myers to close out training camp before embarking on the three-game swing through Boston, Chicago and Buffalo. After the long period of time away from friendly confines, Tampa Bay will spend most of the remaining days of October at home, with the next seven games at the Forum.

“We have been on the road for quite a while if you count training camp, and it was good to start on the road,'' Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “But it will be nice to be in front of some people that like us.''

Generally, when the home team gets in front of the home fans for the first time, the juices start to flow a bit more and the adrenaline rush gets ratcheted above normal levels as the 19,000-plus fans expected provide an energy source for players to feed off of.

The players want to put on a good show and make a good first impression in front of a live audience.

But with three games already under their belts, perhaps the butterflies won't be fluttering as much as if the first home game of the season was also the first game of the season.

“Just probably not as much nervousness,'' center Steven Stamkos said. “You're still anxious and excited to play in front of your home fans. The atmosphere is always unbelievable. The building is going to be jammed and excited and you see around town that buzz again.

“It's just one of those things where you want to get your first shift out of the way. But I think guys are comfortable now, and it is easier having played three games already and for the young guys, knowing what to expect at this level at this time of year should be an exciting time.''

But after the excitement of playing the home opener fades away, there are still six more games to be played on home ice, and among the opponents are the past five Stanley Cup champions — Chicago (2013, 2010), Los Angeles (2012), Boston (2011) and Pittsburgh (2009). It will make for a difficult stretch for a team with six rookies on the roster.

“There's some pretty tough teams coming in, so we are glad we have them at home,'' Stamkos said. “It's going to be a challenge, and you just don't want to get too comfortable. We know that we usually play well here and we have to have that mind-set that we have to win and try to win every game we can.''

A near month-long stretch at home also presents its own set of challenges. Being in familiar surroundings for that length of time often has coaches worried about complacency or players getting into too much of a routine.

Under previous coaching regimes, some of that time would be broken up with team-building activities or a short trip out of town to break the monotony that could set in.

But over the next three weeks, the Lightning will play just about every other day, with the exception of a four-day gap from Oct. 20-23 when the Lightning have no games scheduled. As of now, there are no plans to throw in a curve ball.

“I think we will take this one as it goes,'' Cooper said. “I'm not sure exactly how we are going to play this out during (the rest of the month), but seven straight ... you love to play at home, but seven straight is a lot of games at home and we have to take care of those games. So it would be really nice to build some momentum here on this homestand.''

Pyatt injury

Cooper said injured forward Tom Pyatt, who suffered a broken collarbone during the third period Tuesday in Buffalo, is expected to be out until at least Thanksgiving. In the meantime, Cooper said there was no immediate plan to bring anybody up from Syracuse of the American Hockey League to fill the roster spot.

Tampa Bay opened the season with the maximum of 23 players, which meant three were scratched each night as the Lightning carried two extra defensemen and one forward to start the season. Cooper said he is not inclined to dress seven defensemen and 11 forwards for the time being.

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