Lightning begin 'title defense' with 5-2 win

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) -- The Tampa Bay Lightning brought in the new
season with a long-awaited celebration with their fans and a win in
their first defense as NHL champions.

The Stanley Cup winners enjoyed an emotional pregame ceremony in
which their giant championship banner was raised, and then the
Lightning went out and beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 on
Wednesday night.

"This is great. We talked about getting closure. I think we all
needed that," playoff star Brad Richards said. "It's been a
while. Not that we're sick of hearing of it, but we've got to move
on. It's not our Cup anymore. We saw it tonight for the last time,
and now we'll fight like the other teams to try to get it."

Vinny Prospal scored on the Lightning's first shot of the
season, and assisted on goals by Dan Boyle and Vincent Lecavalier
to help Tampa Bay build a 4-2 lead in the club's first
regular-season outing since beating Calgary in Game 7 of the
Stanley Cup finals 16 months ago.

Richards and Tim Taylor also scored for the Lightning, while
John Grahame stopped 24 shots in his first test since the departure
of Nikolai Khabibulin, who signed with the Chicago Blackhawks.

"We didn't play well in our last two exhibition games ... but
we did switch it on tonight," Lecavalier said.

Radim Vrbata scored an unassisted goal for Carolina in the first
period. The Hurricanes also got an unassisted goal from Eric Staal
to trim Tampa Bay's lead to 3-2 early in the second period.

"We knew it would be tough playing in front of these fans, but
it's frustrating because it's the worst we've executed since we got
back together," Carolina coach Peter Laviolette said. "Still,
it's a long season."

A sellout crowd of 22,120 stood and cheered throughout a
10-minute pregame ceremony in which players, coaches and key
members of the front office, including owner Bill Davidson in a
rare visit for a regular-season game, were introduced individually.

The Lightning also showcased a dazzling collection of
individuals awards won during the 2003-04 season, including
trophies for league MVP and scoring champion (Martin St. Louis),
Stanley Cup MVP (Richards) and coach of the year (John Tortorella).

"It was a terrific ceremony. And what was particularly
impressive was when you look at the array of trophies that were
accumulated during the Stanley Cup run," NHL commissioner Gary
Bettman said. "Tampa Bay had quite a season. It was emotional for
everybody, including me. It's great to be back."

Fans who couldn't get tickets were invited to watch the game on
a big-screen television outside the arena, and the B-52s
entertained early arrivers during a pregame concert on the plaza.

Of course the party wouldn't have been complete without the
Stanley Cup, which was brought out last and placed on a stand in
front of the team. The crowd roared again when the players removed
two curtains cloaking the banner before it was hoisted to the

Prospal, who left Tampa Bay as a free agent the offseason before
the Lightning won the championship, scored 81 seconds in.

"I wish I was never gone," said Prospal, who beat Martin
Gerber after Ruslan Fedotenko stole a pass behind the net and
centered the puck.

"But that's in the past," Prospal said. "I'm just
concentrating on this season."

Gerber, obtained in a trade from Anaheim in June 2004, was
removed from his Hurricanes debut because of a sore hamstring after
stopping 15 of 19 shots in the first two periods. Cam Ward replaced
him and gave up Taylor's goal with just over three minutes left.

"It's just Game 1 in a long season," said Carolina's Cory
Stillman, who had mixed emotions about the Lightning's pregame
celebration because he played for Tampa Bay during the championship

"It was strange not being out there. I just stayed backed in
the locker room until it was over," he said. "Coming back here,
it's all part of the game. It was good to be back. I picked a good
year to play here."

Game notes
Carolina's Ray Whitney was scratched because of a groin
strain. ... Tampa Bay's Dave Andreychuk, beginning his 23rd season,
had two assists. ... St. Louis, last season's scoring champion with
38 goals and 56 assists, was limited to one shot Wednesday night.