For at least one night there was a heart beat. For at least one night they looked like a playoff team. The five game losing streak was forgotten as was the five game streak of surrendering five or more goals. The embattled captain scored a goal and the emerging superstar scored two. The fans cheered and even broke into a spontaneous “DOWN-IE! DOWN-IE!” chant after the Lightning’s Little Ball of Fury decimated a Thrashers defensemen.
I wrote off the Lightning’s playoff hopes before the Olympic break and their lackluster play over the last five games drove my points home. Yet I was surprised to look at the standings on Saturday night to see that they were only three points out of a playoff spot. Sure, half of the Eastern Conference was between them and that last treasured spot in the postseason dance, but there was a glimmer of hope.
New owner, Jeff Vinik, was on hand to see his team (and his team alone) live up to the new marketing slogan that was instituted over the past week. BRING IT BACK. The “it” referred to is the Stanley Cup although it’s never mentioned in the video ads. The ads in stead stress the passion that swept through the TBA for 3 months in 2004 when the Lightning went on their improbably triumphant Stanley Cup run.
The crowd was announced as a sellout and while it wasn’t necessarily an intelligent hockey crowd (prompting this writer to begin crafting his Lightning Fan Manifesto) it was at least boisterous. They were witness to one of the most inspired efforts put forth by the club in the last three seasons.
Despite surrendering the fist goal, the crowd was ignited by Marty St Louis’ wonderful effort on the first goal. Vincent Lecavalier, survivor of another trade deadline, scored for the second game in the row and showed glimpses of his former glory by muscling to the front of the net several times. Steven Stamkos (a.k.a. Spicolli) scored his patented power play goal on a one-timer from the circle.
Section 323 also had a delightful 10 minute span that saw Steve Downie’s hit, a Matt Walker fight, and one of the greatest drunken fan performances in the history of sports. As time was ticking away and I was talking with some fans behind me a sudden motion caught my eye. I spun around to see a woman in a Lightning jersey making her way down towards the exit aisle.
Rather then use the stairs like a normal person she decided to fall down the steps. By the time I saw the commotion she had already completed one full flip and was on her way to another full flip and crash into the rail that separated her from the concrete floor. She landed headfirst in an empty seat between two shocked couples.
As the stunned crowd watched, she stood up, fixed her beer-doused, stringy blond hair and then stared back at us before turning around and bolting through the entryway out of the section. If she had stayed longer I’m sure we would have given her a standing ovation because there is no way a human being should have survived her tumble from Row M to Row A.
Drunk Fans + Steep Stairs = Good times
Now back to the Lightning. If they can continue the play that they showed on Saturday night then I might have to rethink my prediction of them missing the playoffs. Their biggest problem this season has been inconsistency. Several times they’ve followed well played games with listless performances. At this point in the season they can’t afford to do that. But for at least one night the passion, the euphoria was back.