NHL-best Lightning eager to get started against Blue Jackets

The Tampa Bay region has turned blue as the Lightning launch their quest for the Stanley Cup.

The Bolts will host the Columbus Blue Jackets for Game 1 of the first round in the playoffs. The puck drops at 7 p.m. Wednesday. 

For those who don't have tickets, the city of Tampa is hosting a big watch party at Curtis Hixon Park. It's gets underway around 5 p.m. and will feature a free concert by the rock band, Cage the Elephant.

The Tampa Bay Lightning's captain, Steven Stamkos, continues to chase his first Stanley Cup championship. He became the franchise's career goals leader this season while helping the NHL's top team match the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings for most victories in a season with 62.

Claiming the President's Trophy won't mean much, though, if the Lightning can't win another 16 games in the playoffs and hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2004.

Just don't try to convince them they're embarking on a "championship or bust" journey when they begin their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets at home on Wednesday night.

"Everyone likes talking about Stanley Cup or bust. We're focused on the Columbus Blue Jackets. We're not focused on that," Stamkos said. "We have a job to do against a very good hockey team."

Nevertheless, after advancing to the Eastern Conference finals three of the past four seasons but only appearing in the Stanley Cup Final once (2015), the Lightning know a season that saw Nikita Kucherov win the scoring title and goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy lead the league in wins ultimately will be remembered for what happens in the playoffs. The 1995-96 Red Wings, after all, lost in the conference finals to eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado.

"Sixty-two wins doesn't guarantee that we're going to move on," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said. "Sixty-two wins makes us feel pretty good about ourselves, that we can play the game at a high level. But playoff series - there's health, there are matchups, there are so many different things that go into them. But have you prepared yourself for this moment? We feel we have. Where we take this from here, that's the unwritten part of this story."

Columbus, which bolstered its roster at the trade deadline with the addition of Matt Duchene, are coached by John Tortorella, who led Tampa Bay to the Stanley Cup title 15 years ago. The Blue Jackets won seven of 10 down the stretch to earn the final playoff spot in the East.

"I just think we've been a team that's found a way. We've talked about that all year long," Tortorella said.

"We've had some inconsistencies through the year, had a lot of things around the team but we still found a way to get 98 points and get in," Tortorella said. "So we feel really good about ourselves, how we had to do it. It's tough to make the playoffs, so we feel very fortunate and look forward to the opportunity."

The Lightning swept the season series against Columbus 3-0.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.