The Tampa Bay Lightning was on a nine-game winning streak and had reached 100 points with three days left in February. It was leading the NHL by a wide margin in points and in goals scored (248).
It was the right time to contact Phil Hughes, the former Yankees, Twins and briefly Padres pitcher, to find out if his “Lightning Lamp’’ was surviving the stress of flashing all Tampa Bay goals in this fabulous regular season for his favorite hockey team.
The lamps were a Canadian promotion by Budweiser, and you connect the doodad in the lamp to another doodad monitoring your team’s action in live time, and when your boys get a goal, the lamp goes off.
Hughes lives in San Diego after not being able to rediscover his fastball that was lost to shoulder problems and then surgery. He is being paid the last $13.2 million season on the contract extension signed with the Twins after a fabulous first year with Minnesota in 2014.
The problem is the “Lightning Lamp’’ hasn’t been taking note of Tampa Bay’s frequent goals, due to the fact Hughes and wife Sarah are involved in house construction and there is a terrible internet connection.
“I have three lamps for Lightning goals,’’ Hughes informed. “I got the first one, and then my friend Tom Linnemann was able to pull some strings in Toronto and get me the gold Gretzky version. And then he pulled some more strings at Budweiser to get me a custom, All-Star Steve Stamkos version.
“Trouble is, they are all in storage right now. That makes Sarah happy, but I should have them hooked up for the playoffs. All three. It might drive her crazy.’’
The Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, an event that was followed by an NHL lockout that wiped out the 2004-05 season. Hughes, the 23rd overall pick by the Yankees in the 2004 draft, was in Yankees camp a couple of years later and living in a condo downtown Tampa during spring training. The Southern California kid walked over to the arena one night to watch a hockey game.
“I started going to Lightning games whenever I could after that, and fell in love,’’ he said.
And now a hat trick of Lightning Lamps, which Hughes expects to have firing in full force through a long, happy spring.
“They have been so dominant,’’ he said. “Some of these numbers they are putting up … I feel like this has to be the year for the second Cup.’’