Out in the city, they were selling watermelons out of the back of a Chevy pickup and the homeless guys were sucking down smokes on the sidewalk. Out in the corridors of the St. Pete Times Forum, the girls in short shorts were thwacking hand drums and posing for photos and repeating "Let's go, Lightning" in the singsong of adolescence as the big-bellied men lined up for giant Italian sausages and nachos with extra cheese and jalapenos, and a few more jalapenos, please, because it was one of those nights, one of those nights.
And inside the bubble, the undivided attention of the masses was on a tiny black dot, and on the comeback kids, the Wonder Boys, down but never out.
"Be a superstar," a man in Section 319 kept shouting, and it felt like we all were.
Thirty-nine seconds in, the Lightning scored, and you'd have thought it was over, all over, that the rapture was a few days late.
The St. Pete Times Forum sounded like a hurricane. Or a train. Or a train of hurricanes. The floor shook. No kidding.
And that's how it went, back and forth, Boston hanging close the whole game, with a very few rare moments of calm, a raging battle on the ice and in the stands.
There were nosebleeds in the nosebleeds. There was beer on the floor.
A woman gave her little baby a drink of Coca-Cola.
Every time a Lightning player laid a hit on Zdeno Chara, an angel got its wings.
Who knew this thing they call hockey could be such fun? Who knew a run in the playoffs for the Stanley Cup could captivate, could make children cover their ears, could make grown men dye their beards blue and women dance with abandon?
That this distraction from reality, from foreclosures and fretting, could be so sweet and welcome?
"All in," said Chris Taylor, 24.
"This energy is intense," said Chad Robinson, 21.
"It's awesome," said Brandon Romero, 21.
"Go, Bolts," said his son Kasey, not yet 2.
It felt like worries could wait. It felt like screaming, that most primal instinct, could actually make a difference.
Outside there were loans to be settled and dogs to be fed and children to be kissed and sent to bed. Inside, the scoreboard said Lightning 5, Bruins 4, and Thunderstruck poured out of the big speakers, and the people hung around and yelled.
One minute. Two. Three.
"You've given us a chance to believe," Marty St. Louis said afterward, on the big screen, addressing the crowd.
Out in the hallway, Mike Acri, 28, tried to keep his bourbon in his cup.
"We're small guys," he said, "but this, this makes us feel big."
Big, for another night.
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