TAMPA — With 8:01 left in the first period of Thursday night's Lightning-Red Wings showdown, a puck with eyes found its way into the net to tie the score, and a loud roar vibrated through the building.
But here's the strange thing: The goal wasn't scored by the Lightning, and this wasn't Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. This was Amalie Arena, home of the Lightning. On Thursday night, the Lightning had a time-share with the Red Wings.
As has become something of a tradition, Red Wing fans invaded Tampa Bay, turning Hockey Bay into a suburb of Hockeytown. A normal sea of blue had become flooded with red.
"It (ticks) me off," said Brad Fountain, a 47-year-old Lightning partial season-ticket holder from Palm Harbor. "This is our home. This is our building. I hate those fans who come here from other teams."
The Red Wings aren't the only opposing team that attracts fans to games in Tampa Bay, but theirs are the most plentiful and most vocal. The fan breakdown Thursday night was 50-50, maybe even slightly more tilted in favor of the Red Wings.
Don't think the players don't notice.
"Yeah, you notice it, that's for sure," Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. "You get a glimpse during warmup when you see the jerseys. You see it when the other team scores. Sometimes it gets pretty loud for the other team."
This always has been — and always will be — the struggle for Tampa Bay sports teams. Most people living here are from somewhere else — Detroit, New York, Boston, Pittsburgh, wherever. When they move here, they bring their allegiances with them. Red Sox fans have been known to overtake Tropicana Field. Packers fans have overtaken Raymond James Stadium. Fans from several teams show up in droves at Lightning games.
Those from "up north" will never abandon their favorite team, the team their parents and grandparents loved.
"There is still going to be that fan out there who says, 'I'm a big Lightning fan, but for one night I'll sneak on a Red Wing hat.' And that's okay," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. "That organization has been around for a long time. They've earned the respect. You get two teams competing hard on the ice and fans competing in the stands, it's a pretty cool atmosphere."
Sometimes you get a couple such as Tampa's Chris and Tracy Kreider. They've been married for 17 years and have spent all of them here. But he's from Detroit and roots for the Wings, and she's a Lightning fan. They held hands despite sporting opposing jerseys walking on the 300 level of Amalie Arena on Thursday night.
And there's Brandie Lewis, who grew up in Ohio as a Red Wings fan. But her 8-year-old son, Devan, had his entire face painted in Lightning colors.
"I think she's weird," Devan said. "This is a place for the Lightning."
Fans who buy a ticket have the right to root for whichever team they want. And no one should be told what his favorite team should be, regardless of his zip code. But it is one of the more annoying — and quite frankly, embarrassing — things of being a Tampa Bay sports fan. Few markets have to deal with sitting next to fans — and not just a few, but loads of them — rooting against the home team.
Stay updated on Tampa Bay’s sports scene
Subscribe to our free Sports Today newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
"They're obnoxious about it," Fountain said. "All the other teams' fans. They're all obnoxious."
Red Wings fans flocking to games in Tampa Bay is nothing new. It has been happening since the Lightning broke into the league in 1992. But the most embarrassing example came in 2011 during Red Wing legend Steve Yzerman's first season as Lightning general manager. The Red Wings pounded the Lightning 6-2, and Detroit fans celebrated with the team tradition of throwing an octopus on the ice.
Publicly, Lightning executives were pleased to have a sold-out building that night. Privately, they were mortified about another team's fans treating the Lightning's building like it was their personal amusement park.
While management tries to convert as many as it can into Lightning die-hards, players try to make the best of the situation.
"The thing that's cool is that we have a full house," Lightning and former Red Wings forward Valtteri Filppula said. "You obviously hope everybody is on your side, but if that's not the case, it's still a good atmosphere."
In other words, it's better to have a Detroit game with an amped crowd and split allegiances than a Panthers game with a pro-Lightning crowd sitting on its hands.
"It reminds me of the college atmosphere, a little more rowdy, got fans going back and forth," Lightning goalie Ben Bishop said. "It gives you a little more incentive to keep the other team off the scoreboard. You don't want to see them stand up and cheer.
"I think it makes it more fun for the Lightning fans, too, when the other teams come in with fans and we can show them who's boss."
There's no debate about who was the boss Thursday night in the Lightning's 5-1 win. But imagine what will happen if these teams meet in the playoffs. A house divided might make the hockey world stand still.