Three Years Waiting
It's not everyday or not every year fans out West get a chance to see two of the top three point getters in the NHL strut their stuff at GM Place.
Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and the rest of the Lightning strolled into The Garage on Monday afternoon for a quick unscheduled practice shortly after touching down at YVR - much to the surprise of the media and autograph seekers at Gate 9.
I was packing up my things after watching the Canucks go through their paces in preparation for their visitors from the East when the giant garage doors opened and the equipment trainers started unloading Lightning hockey bags.
Lecavalier and the tanned Tampa players filed into their dressing room moments later - so I unpacked again and settled in for a Lightning style scrimmage.
It was stunning to see Lecavalier from ice level - at 6'4 and well over 200 pounds; he looked like he owned every zone with his massive presence. Even Willie Mitchell stood in the shadows of the Vancouver tunnel and took mental notes on the tendencies of the big center.
Both coaches and players alike weren't sure what to expect from the match-up between the opposing styles of the offensively minded Lightning and the defensively responsible Canucks - all the talk leading up to the tilt on Tuesday pointed to a true East versus West battle.
But as all Vancouver fans have come to realize and appreciate this year - the Canucks can run and gun with the best the league has to offer by relying on their systems and solid team play backed by Roberto Luongo. The 5-1 Vancouver victory was evidence of that.
"I think we did a pretty good job of taking away a lot of their space," said Kevin Bieksa in the room afterwards. "We had a pretty good gap most of the night and most of the time when they came down on rushes, we had some guys coming back hard and it really helped us out."
The Lightning were used to facing Luongo eight times a year in the Southeast division and Tampa forward Brad Richards said he wasn't sure if firing a lot of pucks on Roberto was the best approach.
"We faced him so many times and got so many shots against him, it seemed the more we'd shoot the better he got," said Richards after Monday afternoon's practice.
I watched Lecavalier and Dan Boyle do interviews in the second intermission when Vancouver was up 2-1 and outshooting Tampa Bay 20-8. Both commented on how they thought the Lightning had to shoot more on the potential league MVP candidate.
So let's recap.
Richards said the key was to keep Luongo out of the game and Lecavalier and Boyle both agreed the Lightning should fire more pucks his way. Tampa Bay captain Tim Taylor may have said it best in his subdued post game media scrum.
"I think we overthought Luongo," said Taylor. "We counteracted against ourselves. We have to take shots at him, throw pucks at him from all angles. We held onto the puck too much."
The Lightning managed only 17 total shots against the Canucks on Tuesday.
"It was amazing we were able to keep them to such a low total," said a satisfied Luongo. "We did a great job defensively on their top guys. All in all it was a really easy night for me."
It may have been an easy night Roberto, but it wasn't an easy night for Lecavalier, St. Louis and Richards because it seemed like Luongo had their mindset tied up in knots before the game even started.
But I'm sure that's exactly how Louie and his legion of Vancouver fans like it.