Striking while the team’s hot: Lightning reportedly sell twice as many season tickets for 2011-12

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If you ask me, there’s really only one reasonable excuse why a Tampa Bay sports fan wouldn’t support the Lightning at this point: they don’t like hockey.

Beyond that obvious possibility, how could you not be enticed by this team? They have three star players in Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier (even if Lecavalier could probably justify his star status with a little more production). The team has a wily veteran in net in Dwayne Roloson and a possible defenseman of the future in Victor Hedman. Oh yeah, they also have Steve Yzerman as their GM, Guy Boucher’s James Bond scar on the bench and an owner who’s focused on giving hockey people what they need to win as opposed to the duo who seemed too distracted by cross-promoting hackneyed horror movies with goalie masks.

With Stamkos signed for the medium-term future and all of their free agent questions answered, the Lightning look like they have the right ingredients for another promising season. The Yzerman era is off to a bright start off the ice, too, judging by St. Pete Times Forum’s $35 million facelift and an intangible sense of excitement around almost every area of the club.

Of course, all of these great developments would be meaningless if the team fails at the box office. That doesn’t seem to be the case, as Damian Cristodero passes along these promising sales figures from Lightning CEO Tod Leiweke.

The Lightning, coming off its first playoff appearance in four years, has sold more than 10,000 full season tickets for next season, CEO Tod Leiweke said, doubling last season’s total of 5,000.

“We’re right at 10,000, maybe 10,005,” Leiweke said. “We feel good about that.”

Leiweke said renewals are running at about 90 percent, which means about 5,500 new subscribers have signed up. When yet-to-be-sold partial season tickets are factored in, Leiweke said he hopes the season-ticket base will be about 12,000.

“Our job is to sell out every game,” he said. “We still have work to do to get to that. But to say we’d be at 10,000 right now, that’s a heck of a target.”

Cristodero reports that sellouts won’t be quite as difficult to reach thanks to some of the changes made by that $35 million facelift. The addition of a pipe organ, a party deck and the elimination of a few sections and suites will remove 718 seats from a building which boasted a hockey capacity of 19,758 before. That being said, Cristodero points out that the forum could hold more than 20,000 people if you factor in standing room, lounges and restaurant audiences as well, which isn’t that hard to imagine if the Lightning put together another big run in the playoffs.

In other words, things are looking great for the Lightning on the business end. Considering the near-instant success the team has enjoyed since Yzerman took over, it only seems fair. We’ll see if this organization can keep the positive momentum going in 2011-12, though.

Penguins’ Guentzel makes ‘kick save’ to stop Capitals

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It doesn’t get much better than a player making the type of save you’d only expect from a goalie. OK, how about this: when it happens amid the high stakes of the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jake Guentzel had already been distinguishing himself with a red-hot scoring start to the postseason, but he made a big difference in a way that won’t show up in the box score (aside from maybe as a blocked shot) for Game 1 against the Washington Capitals.

In one of the few golden opportunities in a notably tight first period, Guentzel made a “kick save” to keep it 0-0. He also managed to avoid giving the Capitals a penalty shot in the process, so this was quite the effort from the impressive rookie.

Video will be added soon. Here’s the moment in GIF form first:

Lundqvist snubs Sens with 21 saves in first (Video)

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You know how goalies claim they prefer to be busy rather than risking rust in seldom seeing shots? If that’s true, Henrik Lundqvist was really, really happy in the first period.

The Ottawa Senators generated chance after chance in a busy opening frame of Game 1, generating a 21-12 shot differential against the New York Rangers. The game remains 0-0 in large part because Lundqvist has carried over his momentum from the Montreal Canadiens series so far.

As you can see from the video above, Lundqvist made some absolutely fantastic saves, especially in somehow stopping Mark Stone.

In a duller game, 21 shots on goal could a team’s entire output.

That’s impressive stuff from what appears to be a “vintage” Lundqvist. We’ll see how much more the Rangers lean on him as this one goes along.

Oh, and here’s a GIF of the best stop of the bunch, because seriously.

Kunitz is in for Penguins vs. Capitals in Game 1

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The Pittsburgh Penguins get a familiar face back in the lineup, as Chris Kunitz is good to go against the Washington Capitals in Game 1.

The 37-year-old has been sidelined since March 31, ending his regular season with just an assist in his final nine games. His last goal came on Feb. 16.

So, in other words … he’s not quite as big of a deal for this series as he had been in the past.

He’ll draw into a solid fourth line with Matt Cullen and Tom Kuhnackl, while Carter Rowney will be a healthy scratch. Check out the Penguins’ line combos heading into Thursday’s showdown:

Foligno, Getzlaf, Giordano vie for Messier Leadership Award

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The NHL announced the three finalists for the Mark Messier Leadership Award: Nick Foligno (Columbus Blue Jackets), Ryan Getzlaf (Anaheim Ducks) and Mark Giordano (Calgary Flames).

In case you’re curious about the process, the league explains how it works (and how the buck stops with Messier):

Mark Messier solicits suggestions from club and League personnel as well as NHL fans to compile a list of potential candidates for the award. However, the selection of the three finalists and ultimate winner is Messier’s alone. 

So, yes, it might come down to steeliness/60.

Anyway, the most fun part of this award is that Getzlaf and Giordano just engaged in a first-round series, with Getzlaf’s hit on Giordano (see above) being one of the standout moments.

Perhaps Giordano will at least get the best of Getzlaf in this one?