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NO SIR! // A sign of a winner

Yessir! Yessir! Yessir, that Eric Lindros, he withstood every degree of Tampa Bay heat, ignored all ThunderDome taunts, absorbed a few final Lightning punches and his Philadelphia hockey mob left a Bolts playoff corpse on Saturday night ice.

A winner, that No. 88.

So, it's over for the Bolts. For now. An escalating Tampa Bay franchise did three productive years in St. Petersburg's big house, sealed off by a more-than-acceptable au revoir season.

Philly was too much.

Too tough. Too talented.

Maybe next time. Perhaps 12 months from now in the Ice Palace, the Lightning can be more fortified to compete with the Flyers and other big-shot NHL forces in the invigorating world of Stanley Cup.

Bolts can use a Lindros.

Eighty-eight does it all.

Immediately, as the Flyers blew onto T-Dome ice for warmups, Lindros was smothered with boos and fanned by a creative collection of unfriendly placards.

In the lower deck, a chubby boy with a sweet face used a sign to address Philly's icon as "Eric the Red A--." Let's hope that kid didn't learn all those words in some Tampa Bay elementary school.

"Flight 88 crashes," erroneously predicted a waving pasteboard on the 10th row. Way, way up in a near-ceiling section where oxygen is advisable, a woman in Lightning colors carried this sign: "Watch Out Lindros _ Ulanov is Coming!"

Down front, a more threatening memo promised: "If We Go Down Tonite, So Do You, Lindros." C'mon, my sports, we need no such message. I mean, unless it's for sure in fun.

Fortunately, out on the ice, Game 6 was generally less ugly and more admirable than a bloody, nauseating Game 5 embarrassment in Philadelphia. Also, my zebras, far better officiated.

That said...

The night just had to end with Igor Ulanov, two minutes from the end of a 6-1 overhauling, taking a needless against-the-boards shot at Lindros, initiating a fight. T-Domers, of course, cheered Iggy's need. Both combatants were sent to the protection of jail for the remainder of the clock.

In a word, better team won.

As the Flyers leaped to a quick 2-0 lead, Lightning placards began to sag. But then, at Tampa Bay's end, Ulanov located his old pal, Lindros, to deliver a solid hit. Desperate for cheers, T-Domers let loose a light heavyweight roar. A far lustier lung explosion was ahead.

Noise quadrupled as, five seconds later at the opposite end of the Ulanov-Lindros waltz, John Cullen scored for the Bolts.

Short-lived T.B. hope.

Sprinkled among the Lightning-loving masses was a bellowing minority of Flyers fans. One especially brave fellow taunted the Tampa Bay crowd, lifting a sign meant to magnetize network-TV cameras:

E ric

S mashed

P etit's

N ose.

That he did, of course. Lightning old-pro defenseman Michel Petit came to work with a ghastly right-eye shiner, a painful reminder of being poked by a premeditated Lindros stick in Game 5.

With the Flyers leading 2-1, the gritty Petit got a healthy ovation in renewed combat with 88. As the 6-foot-4 Philly talent skated hard toward the Lightning goal on a semi-breakaway, black-eyed Michel came up from behind to powerfully steer the Lindros threat wide of the pipes.

Many anti-Lindros signs were self-explanatory: "Huggies New Spokesman _ Eric the Wimp." In a family effort, side-by-side placards read: "Lindywuss Is A Disgrace to 88" and "Quit Your Crying, Lindywuss _ You're a 239-pound Pansy."

Biggest banner of all also carried a theme of Lindros petulance. A life-sized drawing of Eric in diapers was adorned with: "Mama's Boy _ Big Baby."

This night, he would not weep.

One of my favorites was up against the glass pew behind the west goal: "Hey, Eric!" it hailed, "Who's Your Agent _ Robert Shapiro?"

Early in the second period, after Philadelphia wing Shjon Podein put a violent stick up the nose of Bolts veteran Shawn Burr, the vocal Eric approached game officials to lobby for as light a sentence as possible. Not unlike Shapiro. Even as Burr winced, bled and departed.

As the Lindros oratory continued, a fan reached over sideline glass. Swinging an orange doll, hanging from a cord attached to a stick. Again, the predominant T-Dome message. Eric ignored it. He also lost the appeal. Podein was forced to spend five minutes in the penalty box and then was gone on a game misconduct.

Didn't matter.

Oh, I almost forgot...

About midway up in Section 129, there was a mixed marriage. Kevin Curtis wore a rumpled, smudged No. 88 Flyers shirt. His wife, Penny, came in a couldn't-be-whiter No. 44 Lightning sweater.

"My husband is from Philly, so he's hopeless," Penny said. "But I wasn't about to clean that ugly Lindros thing of his. Kevin, of course, does not know how to operate our washing machine."

But, hubby wore a winner.

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