The Tampa Bay Lightning wrapped up the regular season by eliminating division rival Carolina from playoff contention with a 6-2 victory over the Hurricanes. The Bolts gaze now focuses on the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Stanley Cup Playoffs—their first appearance since 2007.
As important as the playoffs are to so many people—it doesn't mean as much as another battle that many of the Tampa Bay players hope they can contribute to winning—the battle against cancer.
Nate Thompson, Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis, Victor Hedman, Teddy Purcell, Ryan Malone, Mike Smith and SunSports TV personality Paul Kennedy joined 31 people in Cut for a Cure—a charity event that brought in a reported $161,000 of the $230,000 goal for the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. The players shaved their heads to honor the struggle that many children inflicted with cancer and blood disorders are facing on a daily basis.
The need for a cure for cancer was driven home this week when Lightning Assistant Coach Wayne Fleming had to have brain surgery on a primary brain tumor on Saturday. Primary brain tumors begin in the brain and can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). Whether his tumor was the latter has not been revealed publicly but any tumor in the brain is potentially life threatening.
The 61-year-old Fleming is resting at home after the procedure was performed in Tampa's famed Moffitt Cancer Center.
One of the first moves head coach Guy Boucher and GM Steve Yzerman made was to get the experienced Fleming on the bench to help his first year coach.
Fleming is well known in the international community, as he served as associate coach for Team Canada at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey and the 2006 Winter Olympic Games. Fleming was vice president of hockey operations and head coach for Hockey Canada in 2002.
According to Damian Cristodero of the St. Pete Times, the team is not ruling out Fleming for the playoffs and said his participation will be based on his "level of comfort during the treatment process."
While the players certainly have their coach in their hopes and prayers, the Cut for the Cure was more about the kids.
"When you see the smiles on their face, you know it made their night," Lecavalier told the St. Petersburg Times, "To know what they go through and how tough it is … the least we can do is things like this."
Lecavalier has done a lot more than going bald for the kids. His Vincent Lecavalier Pediatric Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at the All Children's Hospital in Tampa has done amazing work taking care of hundreds of kids and making strides in pediatric cancer research.
The Lightning overcame a late season slump to win seven of their last eight games and secure the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Their 103 points are second most in franchise history.
Yet, none of that matters to kids fighting for their lives or Coach Fleming as he recovers from brain surgery. They'll be plenty of time to discuss matchups and grow playoff beards.
For one night though, it is about the coach and those kids.