The National Hockey League opened its 2021-22 season on Tuesday night with a pair of games. One game on the Gulf Coast of Florida, and the other in the desert oasis of Nevada. The night began in Tampa where the Lightning began defense of their Stanley Cup Championship losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-2.
Before the game at Amalie Arena, there was a ceremony celebrating the team’s second consecutive championship, won in the same building against Montreal. The Stanley Cup was at center ice all gleaming and shiny, and the title banner was raised to the rafters.
As for the game itself, the old saying ‘you can’t tell the players without a program’ truly was the Penguins on this night.
Playing without their two best players, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, both out with injuries, the Pens scored the game’s first goal just 12 seconds into the second period when Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevsky played th puck behind his net, he backhanded the puck trying to clear out of his own zone. The pass was intercepted by the Pens Jeff Carter who centered the puck in front of the goal to left winger Danton Heinen who put the puck into net before Vasilevsky could return.
Pittsburgh added a second goal just four minutes later when Sam Lafferty and Drew O’ Connor set up center Brian Boyle to make the score 2-0. Boyle, who played with the Lightning when they won their first Stanley Cup in 2004, and has battled and won a fight against cancer, is making a comeback to the NHL after not playing last season.
In the third period, the visitors dented the net four times getting tallies from center Dominik Simon at the 11:32 mark along with three empty net tallies from forwards Teddy Blueger, Evan Rodriguez, and Bryan Rust. Blue liner Kris Letang had two assists.
The home team finally gave the sellout crowd of 19,092 something to cheer about when D Victor Hedman and C Steven Stamkos set up F Anthony Cirelli who scored at 14:23. Two and a half minutes later, Stamkos and Cirelli assisted on left wing Alex Killorn’s tally. However by then, the game was decided.
Those two goals in the middle frame would be all the Black and Gold would need on this evening as goalie Tristan Jarry made 26 saves in picking up the victory.
It was second time in five weeks that a Tampa Bay professional sports team began a new league season. The NFL Buccaneers opened the 2021 National Football League campaign defending their Super Bowl championship with a win over the Dallas Cowboys.
The scene then shifted to a place, just off the Las Vegas Strip, as the Golden Knights faced the Seattle Kraken in the expansion team’s first ever game.
For the Kraken, this night in T-Mobile Arena was the culmination of two years of planning and preparation since the city was granted the expansion franchise and became the NHL’s 32nd team. They went through the naming of the team, where they would play, the building of their practice facility, the team colors, the expansion draft, free agency, then the five preseason games all leading up to this moment.
Like the Penguins, Vegas also took a 2-0 lead on first period goals from LW Max Pacioretty, and C Jonathan Marchessault.
At the start of the second period, Pacioretty scored his second of the evening to extend the lead to 3-0. Then at the 11:32 mark history was made when C Ryan Donato put the puck past Knights goaltender Robin Lehner for the first ever goal in team history.
We had a game on our hands, and for a better word, the Kraken was unleashed. Just 72 seconds later at the 12:44 mark, LW Jared McCann found the range to make the score 3-2 with assists Jordan Eberle and Jaden Schwartz.
In the third period, Seattle came all the way back and tied the score 3-3 thanks to C Morgan Geekie at the 7:58 mark with help from D Jeremy Lauzon.
In the end however, the night belonged to Vegas as just 35 seconds later at 8:33, Chandler Stephenson beat Kraken netminder Phillipp Grubauer for the game winning score. The Knights withstood a late charge by the visitors to send the sellout crowd of 18,431 into the sounds of the late Elvis Presley’s classic ‘ Viva Las Vegas’ which is played after every home victory.
Lehner, who took over the number one goaltending duties when Marc-Andre Fleury was traded to Chicago in the off-season made, 31 saves to garner the victory. RW Mark Stone had two assists. Including one on Stephenson’s game winner to be named the game’s number one star.
Grubauer, who signed with the Kraken as a free agent from Colorado was very good making 30 saves in the loss. A very special night, in two separate cities. In one, a final celebration of a championship, the other the beginning of a new franchise.
The 2021-22 NHL season has begun now the eight month chase for Lord Stanley’s Cup begins.