TAMPA — As the sun went down, they invaded — suited up in wigs and war paint, hoisting flags and screaming.
"It's pretty much insanity," hollered 22-year-old Adam Litchford, itching underneath the bright blue beard strapped to his face. "I mean, I'm excited!"
Litchford and thousands of other Tampa Bay Lightning fans flooded the St. Pete Times Forum on Monday night for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The series marked the first time in four years the home team is back in the playoffs. The last time the team won the whole thing, and took the Stanley Cup, was in 2004.
Going into Monday night, after two games against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they were 1 and 1.
"They definitely have some momentum," said Zachary "Best Pittsburgh Fan in History" Thompson. "But we're gonna win this thing."
Thompson, a 36-year-old St. Petersburg resident originally from outside Pittsburgh, has spent the last three years converting his fiancee to Penguin fanaticism.
Rebecca Muller, 32, went to home Lightning games as a kid, but on Monday night wore a gold jersey to match Thompson's.
Really, she said, she had no choice.
Neither does Zoe Malone Glisson, who has not yet been born.
Her six-month-pregnant mother, Miah Glisson, vows that little Zoe Malone — to be named for Lightning wing Ryan Malone — will come into the world a fan.
"She's due in August, which is right when hockey season starts up again," Glisson said, patting her belly while waiting outside. "Perfect."
As she and the rest of the masses poured into the arena, they were handed aptly named thundersticks — which, outside this event, would be totally obnoxious.
Looking like two ping-pong paddles fused together, the noisemakers clack at the flick of a wrist. The fans didn't give them much rest.
"Here we go, Lightning, Here we go!"
Marcia Gilbert, 72, of Clearwater had one in each hand.
Hockey is Gilbert's favorite sport. It's got more action than other games, more competition, more excitement, she said.
"I like all the noise, and the people who are really into it, with face paint and all that," she said.
Plus, she likes to keep an eye on her favorite player, Vinny Lecavalier.
"Because he's the best," Gilbert said, leaning in closer. "The best looking."
When the clock struck 7:30 p.m., she and everybody else really got to thumping. Especially when the lights went down, and AC/DC's Thunderstruck boomed through the speakers.
"Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, THUNDER!"
Terry Tozian, a 45-year-old man with a bolt painted across his eye, and Ashley Hartley, a 23-year-old with a Lighting tattoo on her wrist, waved massive blue flags above the crowd.
The two met a couple of years ago, here in the stands. Lightning devotion is the basis of their friendship.
"We're gonna crush them!" Tozian said. "That's a promise."
"Yeah!" yelled Hartley.
They smacked a high-five, then screamed into each other's faces.
It suddenly got quiet as the lights snapped on. Everybody's eyes darted to the rink.
A puck hit ice, and then came the cheers.
Reach Kim Wilmath at email@example.com or 813-226-3337.
This story has been revised to reflect the following correction: The Tampa Bay Lightning were in the NHL playoffs in 2007 and won the Stanley Cup in 2004. A version of the story did not make clear when the team was last in the playoffs.