TAMPA — On the eve of the Lightning’s first home playoff game in more than two years, the team announced it is increasing capacity at Amalie Arena to 9,000 fans.
Beginning with Game 3 of their first-round playoff series against the Florida Panthers Thursday night, capacity will be at about 47 percent of the 19,000-seat arena.
The Lightning received approval from local government and health officials and the NHL to make the change. The arena’s current approved protocols and upgrades, which include HVAC upgrades to improve airflow in and out of the facility, allow the potential of increasing to 11,000 fans.
The Lightning initially decided to increase capacity to 7,000 fans for the first round of the playoffs, a significant jump from the 4,200 allowed to attend games at the end of the regular season. Before arriving at 7,000, the team surveyed season ticket members on their desire to attend playoff games and their comfort with adjusting social-distancing between seating pods from 6 feet to 4-1/2 to 5.
The atmosphere for the first two games of the series at BB&T Center in Sunrise — both ending in Lightning wins — was one the team hadn’t experienced since the pandemic shut down the game last season and forced the postseason to be played in Canadian bubbles, with the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup in Edmonton.
“No question we’re looking forward to it,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “You like playing in the playoffs, you like it more when you’re playing at home. I don’t know how many people will be in the building, but whether it’s one or 19,000, it’s great to play in front of people. It’s clear, if you watch the first two games we played in Florida, I don’t know if you get quite that intensity if the fans weren’t in the building, so it definitely matters.”
The Panthers announced crowds of 9,646 for Games 1 and 2, which is 50 percent of the arena’s capacity.
After first being offered to season ticket holders and members of the Lightning Insider email list, remaining tickets for Games 3 and 4 have now been made available to the general public via Ticketmaster.
With coronavirus cases and positivity rates rising locally, the Lightning opened the season in January with no fans in the arena. They eventually allowed a few hundred family and friends before increasing capacity to 3,800 and then 4,200 for the final two regular-season home games.
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