TAMPA — A Lightning loss in a potential series-clinching game is a little easier to swallow when you have 5,000-plus fans to commiserate with you.
With the exception of players competing on the ice and coaches standing behind the benches, you would have thought a game was going on at Amalie Arena on Wednesday night.
National anthem singer Sonya Bryson-Kirksey was there. Vo Williams delivered a live performance, finishing down under the video board at center ice. P.A. announcer Paul Porter read off the starting lineups. In-arena host Greg Wolf led the 5,850 fans in attendance through games for prizes. And cheers and groans echoed throughout the arena in keeping with the action of Game 6.
It was the perfect atmosphere for watching a Lightning game ... on the big screen. And it’s why longtime fans Emily Newman and Lissie Zimmerman came out to Wednesday’s watch party while the home team was on the road at the Islanders’ Nassau Coliseum.
The Tampa friends remembered the distance they felt during last year’s Stanley Cup run — held without fans in two Canadian bubbles — and wanted to play a bigger part in another hopeful run this year.
“It’s so exciting,” Newman said. “It means so much more (this year in-person). Honestly, that was one of the biggest things I missed (last year).”
Newman, 29, was at Monday’s 8-0 shutout win and loved the atmosphere she felt during a fun game. She texted Zimmerman afterward and convinced her to tag along to the Game 6 watch party with a chance for the Lightning to clinch another spot in the Stanley Cup Final.
It didn’t take much for Zimmerman to agree that Amalie Arena would be the best place to watch the game.
“Being able to be here and be a part of it is really awesome,” said Zimmerman, 32.
Being with other fans is also why Justin Skelton, 28 of Land O’Lakes, wanted to come out for his first watch party of the postseason.
Skelton, a Lightning fan of five years, has enjoyed the energy the postseason has brought to the Tampa Bay community with fans back in the stands. And he hopes that they get to see another Stanley Cup run in-person this go-around. Game 7 of the semifinals is Friday night.
“It’s been fantastic,” Skelton said. “Definitely feels like home.”
Logan Kearns and his 27-year-old brother, Ryan, also wanted to be around fellow Lightning fans. They equated the watch party to an upscale version of spending an evening out at a bar.
The younger Kearns brother was attending his third watch party. He went 2-0 to start and wanted his streak to continue for the most important game of the postseason to date. The $10 tickets are hard to beat, allowing them to experience the playoffs in-person without breaking the bank.
If the Lightning pull out a series win — they fell 3-2 in overtime Wednesday in New York — the brothers plan to dig deeper into their pockets so they can come to a Cup final game in-person.
“It’s just the fact that you’re able to celebrate with the other people in the arena,” said Logan, 24. “When you’re at home, you’re with one other person you can high-five, but in the arena everyone’s hyped up and you can share the experience with everybody.”
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