Panthers call it a season with 3-1 loss to Lightning; Stamkos nails 51st

Like last night, we're not going to spend much time rehashing what went down this evening; in the big picture it's really not that important. The season's in the books, the players will get their exit interviews tomorrow, and life will return to a familiar pace for all of us at this time each year. But that's not an entirely bad thing.

Let's get the numbers out of the way first: Kudos to Tampa Bay sophomore Steven Stamkos (8 SOG), who notched his 51st goal of the year (EN with 12 seconds remaining, and one more than Alex Ovechkin), an effort which tied him with Sidney Crosby, enabling the two to share the Rocket Richard Trophy. What a campaign.

Otherwise, Rostislav Olesz opened the scoring at 2:06 of the first period with assists from Radek Dvorak and Shawn Matthias. And that was it from the Cats. Noteworthy was Keith Ballard's 19 penalty minutes gained in a fight with Ryan Malone. Bryan McCabe led in SOG with five and TOI with 24:22. Alex Tanguay and Vincent Lecavalier each had a goal and assist in the victory. Scott Clemmensen closed with 28 saves as counterpart Mike Smith stopped 30 shots. Tyler Plante again backed up Clemmer.

As is custom, the club signed autographs, took photos, and milled with fans on ice after the final bell. The faces of players - downtrodden yet unbowed - showed the wear of 82 games and more than a touch of disappointment following yet another year of coulda-shoulda. But collectively they kept the kids smiling. Can't help but think more than a few of the Cats are wondering where they'll be skating five months from now, as the spectre of relocation for they and their families looms large. Not a pleasant thought for anyone. A losing season affects far more than the diehards.

In the days ahead we'll be offering up our thoughts on the year, whom should be retained/dealt, our hopes for the draft, our desires in free agency, and beyond. Because we're know-it-alls. That's what fans do. And please keep up the great work on FanPosts/FanShots. Be heard.

The 2009-10 season may be finished, but the real work lies ahead for GM Randy Sexton and his staff. Love him or not, the future of the franchise rests in his hands. Step One is Tuesday, so join us for the LotteryMania Live Chat Spectacular at 7pm.

On a personal note: my sincere thanks to everyone - regulars and lurkers alike - for coming out all year. It's been an honor and pleasure interracting with each of you. The best is yet to come.