TAMPA (620 WDAE) -- The Tampa Bay Lightning begin their second season tonight at Amalie Arena, beginning the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a best-of-seven matchup against the New Jersey Devils.
Most importantly for the team, they will get their captain, center Steven Stamkos, back after missing the final three games of the regular season with a lower-body injury.
"We said the plan was to play game 1, that's the plan," the Lightning captain said after morning skate Thursday. [I'm] looking forward to getting out there and competing with the guys. We haven't strayed away from that, got a couple good practices in, and felt good. So I'm ready."
Head coach Jon Cooper confirmed that Stamkos would play tonight, and said that while he may not be the 60-goal scorer of years past because of the leg injuries he has suffered over the past few years, his contributions are just as important now.
"He had 80-plus points, and was a driving force behind us coming first in the division, having the success we had," Cooper said Thursday of his captain's season.
Stamkos finished with 27 goals and 86 points overall, and was a +18 on the year, exceeding his plus-minus total for the last four previous seasons combined (he was just +13 between the 2012-13 and 2016-17 seasons, two of which were significantly shortened due to injury).
NO NERVES FOR GOURDE: Forward Yanni Gourde, who has played his way into Calder Trophy considerations, will be playing in his first postseason game of his NHL career tonight, but said he hasn't experienced any butterflies in his stomach thinking about the opportunity.
"I think you guys are making me more nervous than the actual game," he joked Thursday morning as the media scrum gathered around his locker. "I'm really excited. That's the emotion I have right now."
The Lightning have a number of players who will be participating in their first postseason action tonight. Along with Gourde, defensemen Jake Dotchin and Mikhail Sergachev and forwards Anthony Cirelli and Adam Erne have yet to play in a Stanley Cup playoff contest.
Game 2 - Lightning vs Devils, Saturday, Amalie Arena, 3:00 p.m. faceoff
Game 3 - Lightning at Devils, April 16, Prudential Center, 7:30 p.m. faceoff
Game 4 - Lightning at Devils, April 18, Prudential Center, 7:30 p.m. faceoff
Game 5 - Lightning vs Devils, April 21, Amalie Arena, TBD *
Game 6 - Lightning at Devils, April 23, Prudential Center, TBD *
Game 7 - Lightning vs Devils, April 25, Amalie Arena, TBD *
(*) - if needed
Listen to comments from head coach Jon Cooper, captain Steven Stamkos and forward Yanni Gourde below!