The Lightning were on a preseason trip last week in Canada, but baseball fan Steven Stamkos still managed to catch the final Rays game of the regular season on TV. He saw them come from seven runs down, and watched Evan Longoria circle the bases.

"I got chills," Stamkos said.

The Rays are gone, but the Lightning are on, beginning tonight in Carolina – with their 21-year-old star, now one of hockey's signature figures, a cover boy for the latest EA Sports NHL video game.

Funny, his nose looks fine on the cover.

When we last saw Stamkos, he was at the end of his first playoff season – and he was a bloody mess. His nose was shattered by a shot from Boston Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final. Stamkos and his red river left the ice. But before long, he was back out there, his face behind a cage, that bludgeoned nose a righteous symbol of playoff All In.

"They put it back in its place," Stamkos said. "It was the biggest game of my life. There was no way I wanted to miss it. I was so jacked up at the Game 7. I didn't really feel it until the next morning, when I woke up and both my eyes were shut, two black eyes and my nose still bleeding."

That wasn't even what hurt.

It was the 1-0 loss. It was coming up one win short of the Stanley Cup final. Then the Bruins went and won Stanley.

"It took me longer to get over the pain of losing," Stamkos said. "You realize that was the one hundredth game of the year, our hundredth game. We might have to play all of those games, a hundred games this season, just to get back to that point, for a chance to be in the finals. It was the pain of losing. I didn't know how emotional it was going to be."

The Lightning probably overachieved last season. The Washington Capitals, whom the Bolts swept from the playoffs, have loaded up to again win the Southeast and finally the Cup. What will the Lightning have? Will there be a step back? Or will there be chills?