JAY CRIDLIN and RODNEY THRASH
The Lightning wins, and hundreds of fans rejoice in Tampa.
TAMPA - Those dark clouds hovering over the St. Pete Times Forum?
Gone. Literally and figuratively.
As menacing daylong rain clouds dissolved into an inky evening sky, hundreds of hockey fans outside the Times Forum rejoiced in watching the Tampa Bay Lightning stave off Stanley Cup elimination with a 3-2 double-overtime win over Calgary on Saturday night.
The victory sets up a winner-take-all Game 7 Monday night in Tampa, and for fans, erases painful memories of Thursday's demoralizing overtime defeat at home.
When Martin St. Louis scored the winning goal 33 seconds into the second overtime, the crowd erupted into bedlam.
"Oh my God!" screamed 22-year-old Ginger Barron, collapsing to the ground in tears. "We're going to Game 7!"
All night, everyone at the Times Forum agreed: This was the place to watch the game in Tampa.
Images of 20-foot-tall hockey players glided across the side of a parking garage, which for the Lightning's last few playoff games has doubled as a projection TV screen.
Bob and Kathy Shain of Vero Beach drove three hours just to sit on a concrete bench in the back, but both said they'd do it again in a heartbeat.
"We believe they can win it all," said Bob, 53.
But Mark Boucher, 32, of Spring Hill takes the prize for most dedicated Lightning fan, having come to downtown Tampa all the way from Naples, Italy.
"I came 4,000 miles to support the team," said Boucher, who's on a monthlong leave from the Navy. Despite the win, the mood outside the arena was at times somber.
Word of former president Ronald Reagan's death just hours before game time shocked some, especially those hearing the news for the first time.
"He was a man of integrity," Bob Shain said upon hearing the news. "But life goes on."
Following a brief moment of silence just before the game, the celebration continued under flags flown at half-staff.
At times, the crowd made as much noise outside the arena as Devil Rays fans make inside theirs. Every Lightning play yielded a cacophony of Whomp! sounds from a ThunderStix orchestra.
As the two overtimes dragged the clock toward midnight, many younger fans took naps on makeshift cots on the ground.
By the end, Lightning fans were ecstatic to be celebrating among other like-minded Bolt lovers.
"I'm going to Channelside to celebrate," said Carl Zimmerman, 30, of St. Petersburg. "I don't want to go home yet."
Tim Pulliam, 41, of Brandon, smoked a handful of fine victory cigars throughout the game. One, though, he saved for Monday and what he hopes will be an all-night party for the Tampa Bay Lightning's first Stanley Cup.
"I've got my fattest cigar," he said, "for our first victory."
- Jay Cridlin can be reached at 813 661-2442 or email@example.com