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Hitting the road for Drulia

Tron Luttrell and Carol Cinnamon altered their vacation schedules and drove 13{ hours from Knoxville, Tenn., to see the Lightning's opener and, most of all, right wing Stan Drulia.

Luttrell worked for the Knoxville Cherokees of the East Coast Hockey League, which is where Drulia played two seasons ago.

"We decided to take a late one (vacation) and come here," said Luttrell. "It looked like he had a good shot, and things have worked out really well."

Luttrell, 46, who attended the University of Tampa and graduated from St. Petersburg Junior College, said the Lightning will be his adopted NHL team.

"I love hockey," he said. "The only regret I have growing up down south is that there's no hockey, but now "

Desperately seeking scalpers

Talk about hot tickets. Kerry Thompson of Tampa spent Wednesday morning, afternoon and early evening desperately trying to finagle tickets to the opener.

An hour before game time, he and about 20 other people were looking for scalpers. But he wasn't willing to go $50 for a $34 ticket. At least not at that point.

"We had season tickets, but wouldn't you know the people we went in on them with were from Chicago," Thompson said.

"It's the first time in my life I was happy to see scalpers," said Lightning executive officer David LeFevre.

Religious commitment

The Lightning's first game was also the first for Gil Stein as NHL president. Stein, who is Jewish, spent Tuesday night in temple for Yom Kippur _ the Day of Atonement and the holiest day for Jews.

"Last night I couldn't go to a game, but I felt tonight, the game started after sundown (the end of the holiday), so I could be here," he said.

Ziegler feels sense of relief

Former NHL president John Ziegler said he couldn't have been more excited than he was Wednesday night. And relieved. There were times when the Lightning franchise was on thin ice.

"Some people didn't believe in it as much as Phil (Esposito) and I did," he said. "It was on the brink."

Ziegler credited Tampa Mayor Sandy Freedman's support as key to convincing any non-believers that hockey in Florida could work.

"There were a few anxious moments, but a lot of hard work paid off," she said. "I haven't seen an arena yet, but I knew I'd see this."

A sign of fame

Stein was so recognizable to the fans _ maybe it was his black tuxedo _ that he was mobbed before the game by autograph seekers.

"They don't know the players yet, so they settle for me," he said.

Steinbrenner's pleased

Onetime Lightning investor George Steinbrenner said he had no regrets about no longer being part of the franchise.

"I'm so happy for the people that are," said Steinbrenner. "Esposito wouldn't be denied, and the people from Japan are so nice."

Lightning hands Chicago

a stifling power outage

Chicago, which was one of the worst teams scoring on power plays last year (18th in the league at 17.3 percent), failed to score on eight power plays Wednesday.

"They didn't have many shots on their power plays," Lightning goaltender Wendell Young said. "The guys took it away in the neutral zone. That was the difference."

Lightning defenseman Rob Ramage said the key was that he and his teammates came out just as aggressive _ if not more so _ than the always-physical Blackhawks.

"We have enough guys that have played in the Norris Division and have seen enough of Chicago over the years to know you have to counter (their aggressiveness)," he said. "And what the heck. It's our building. There's no reason for us to play back on our heals."

In contrast, the Lightning scored on 3 of 10 power-play opportunities. Last year, Chicago was stopped 84.2 percent _ second-best in the NHL.

"We played poorly, but give them credit, they came out hard and played well," Chicago star defenseman Chris Chelios said. "I don't think it would have mattered if it were Tampa Bay or St. Louis. They were ready, and we weren't."

Awesome performance

Lightning left winger Rob Zamuner, who had three assists, marveled at the play of Chris Kontos and his four-goal performance.

"This guy was awesome," he said. "Maybe I should touch him and play the lottery."

The stars of the game, as voted by the media, were: Kontos, Zamuner and defenseman Joe Reekie, who had two assists.

_ BRIAN LANDMAN and CAMMY CLARK

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