TAMPA -— Before the Tampa Bay Lightning's playoff game against the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday night, Brant Summers had a decision to make.
The 7-year-old pondered his options in the face-paint line outside the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Some of the other kids got blue and white paint covering their whole faces. But Brant decided on a lightning bolt. It's traditional, he said.
Brant has been to a lot of hockey games with his father, Ed Summers, 48, of Tampa. But this was his first playoff game.
They joined Lightning fans, many in jerseys, who flooded the front of the Times Forum to share in the pregame excitement of playoff hockey Wednesday.
It was the first time the team has made it to the playoffs since 2011, and fans were hopeful for a victory on home ice against a team they dominated in the regular season.
Summers has been bringing Brant and his other 10-year-old son to games for a while. It's especially fun now that they're getting older and are more into the game, he said.
"They understand the game more and enjoy watching," Summers said. "Before it was all about the food."
Brant's favorite players are Steven Stamkos and Ben Bishop.
"Steven Stamkos plays very, very good, and Ben Bishop is a great goalie," he said, but later he made sure to clarify that he really likes all the players, he just picked those two.
Summers has been watching the Lightning since the team started, and was there when it won the Stanley Cup in 2004.
"I've been down here many times," he said. "It's always electric."
As fans waited outside the Times Forum before the game Wednesday night, the revelry continued across the street in the spot of the soon-to-be Ferg's Tampa.
The restaurant is still under renovation, but the owners held a tailgate party in the parking lot before the game. They'll do the same for every home game during the playoffs.
The restaurant will open in August, but owner Jay Mize wanted to create a buzz in the meantime.
The Channel District has come a long way, but also has a long way to go, he said.
"We're one positive seed," he said. "We're excited to see the growth continue."
Born and raised in Cincinnati, Mize has been in Tampa for more than 20 years. The Tampa teams are his teams, he said. He was hopeful the Lightning would get the right momentum Wednesday night.
"Any team that gets into the playoffs has a chance to win the championship," he said. "When you're a sports fan, all you want is to get to the playoffs."
Tim Leonard, 39, of New Tampa sat with a friend outside the Times Forum.
They finished up sandwiches before the game started. Leonard was hoping for a loud crowd.
"It's nice to have the first game at home, to rally everyone around," he said. "Hopefully everyone can get around behind the team."
The season-ticket holder comes to games about once a week when the team is home, and likes to bring his 4-year-old daughter. She has fun eating Dippin' Dots and dancing to the music, he said.
He remembers being that young and going with his father to Washington Capitals games. They always got butterscotch pudding.
"I remember going to the games with my dad," he said. "Hopefully she'll remember that too."
Keeley Sheehan can be reached at [email protected]