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Lightning fans turn out in force at St. Pete Times Forum, leave dejected but proud of team

TAMPA — Dejection but not disappointment filled the hearts of thousands of Tampa Bay Lightning fans who watched the end of a season Friday night.

Anti-Boston Bruins chants swept through the crowd outside the St. Pete Times Forum during a tense, scoreless second period. Lightning fans who turned out for a watch party looked on as Boston's TD Garden reverberated with Bruins fans shouting, "We need a Cup!"

Then, it happened: Bruins right wing Nathan Horton deflected a pass, sending the puck past Lightning goalie Dwayne Roloson with 7:33 left in the third period.

Shouts of "Oh no!" rang through the courtyard. It was all the Bruins needed for a 1-0 series-clinching win and a trip to the Stanley Cup finals.

Heather Clerk, 28, of Palm Harbor wasn't smiling as the Bruins celebrated, but she wasn't unhappy.

"It was a great game," she said. "Their drive and motivation is great. They didn't have the best start this season, but they always pulled it out."

Clerk, a restaurant manager and a season ticket holder, vowed to be back for the Bolts next season.

"It was an excellent game," added Lyonel Leonard, a 64-year-old retiree from Lakeland. "Anytime you get through almost a whole game with no penalties, that's good hockey.

"I'm absolutely not disappointed at all. One goal won it."

Leonard said the crowd at Friday's watch party eclipsed all the previous ones that he attended.

"You've got to have the atmosphere," he laughed.

Before the opening puck dropped, some 3,000 people had made their way to the Forum. A human sea of blue and white blanketed the arena's courtyard.

As the game remained scoreless through the second period, fans cheered wildly at every save and Lightning shot.

"It would be amazing to win," said Tara Ferry, 19, of Dunedin. She didn't live in Tampa when the Bolts won the Stanley Cup in 2004, but she's a huge fan now.

Jon Loomis, 24, wanted a victory for personal reasons: He works on the crew that changes the Forum's ice sheet for non-hockey events.

At the end of the second period, Loomis said the game seemed pretty even, but center Steven Stamkos' injury was cause for concern. Stamkos was hit in the face by a puck and briefly left the game early in the second period.

Lightning fans turn out in force at St. Pete Times Forum, leave dejected but proud of team 05/27/11 [Last modified: Saturday, May 28, 2011 12:09am]
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