TAMPA, Fla. — Dave Randorf is still riding the high of July 7, when the Tampa Bay Lightning captured their back-to-back championship with a Game 5 win over the Montreal Canadiens.
Now, with the Bolts prepared to open their 2021-2022 season in a 7:30 p.m. game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, Randorf's excitement is just as intense.
“It won’t quite be like Game 5 — as it was during the Stanley Cup Final," he said. "That was an atmosphere beyond belief, but it’s going to be close. I think a lot of people were unable to really kind of celebrate in-person and are going to be here and on Thunder Alley as well taking in what is a very, very special accomplishment for this team and for this city, Champa Bay.”
Tuesday night, the team will raise another at Amalie Arena to mark that back-to-back Stanley Cup wins.
As the new season begins, there will be some differences.
A longer, 82-game schedule returns after seasons reduced in length by the COVID-19 pandemic. A full capacity Amalie Arena returns as well.
The Lightning will also have some new faces on the ice after losing many from its third line.
“I think there’s always going to be changes every year, no matter whether you’re a Stanley Cup Champion or you’re starting at the bottom of the standings. There’s always going to be players coming in and coming out," said Randorf.
“Now, are you going to replace that entire third line of Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman? No. You are going to need some guys to step up and fill those holes and be themselves and contribute in their own ways and create something new for this season because it is a new story and new chapter being written," he continued.
But certain things will remain the same.
On Monday, the Bolts ensured that head coach Jon Cooper will be on the Tampa Bay bench for the next four seasons by signing a three-year contract extension through the 2024-25 season.
“I’m excited to be a part of this organization for a few more years and continue to build on the standard we have set,” Cooper said. “It’s the greatest place to work. Tampa is my home. It’s great to be able to be back.”
In eight full seasons, Cooper had led the Lightning to the playoffs seven times including five trips to the conference finals.
The team's core of talented players is also returning. For that reason, Randorf believes the team will have continued success as it eyes something hard to achieve: a three-peat.
“A three-peat is a very special thing," said Randorf. "I think they’re motivated to do something special. They are good enough to do something special, and I’m excited to see how this season plays out and if they can get there again.”
The season opener against Pittsburgh begins Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised by ESPN.