TAMPA, FL. – The Stanley Cup was brought out, the team was introduced, the banner was raised and Sonya Bryson-Kirksey’s rendition of the national anthem was as electric as ever.
Indeed, Amalie Arena was the place to be Tuesday night. A sellout crowd of 19,092 celebrated the second of the Lightning’s back-to-back Stanley Cups, a championship that was won a mere three months ago in the same venue.
“That was fantastic,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos. “That was something we were all looking forward to, in front of our fans here and family members in attendance. That was special. We didn’t quite get that last year, so guys were really excited about it. The atmosphere was great.”
As Stamkos alluded to, this banner evening was a far cry from the one that took place March 13, two months into the pandemic-shortened 2021 season and in front of only 3,800. That ceremony was delayed because fans were not permitted at Amalie in January and February.
That is not to diminish the excitement those on hand experienced that evening, but life is better when the building is full and Bolts Nation can cheer on a team that has provided so much joy the past two seasons.
“It was a special night for us and the fans,” said Pat Maroon, who has won three straight Cups, the first with St. Louis in 2019. “It was a huge accomplishment for our group. We deserved to watch that banner get raised. We deserved it. We earned it. When you look at the banner going up into the rafters, you think back at how hard it was to win and what a special group we had.”
Tuesday was the first regular-season game at Amalie in which full capacity was permitted since March 5, 2020, against Montreal. Most everything came to a halt a week later.
Full capacity was not permitted again until the Stanley Cup final against the Canadiens. Though the official attendance was 18,110, every seat was taken — most of two sections were turned into auxiliary press areas — during the Cup-clinching evening of July 7 when Ross Colton etched his name in Tampa Bay sports lore as well as Lord Stanley’s chalice. For those in the house then, and again on Tuesday night, it must have felt like hockey heaven.
Except for what followed the banner raising. The Bolts fell, 6-2, to a Penguins team playing without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
“They beat us to every puck, they worked harder than us, they were better than us in every facet of the game,” said coach Jon Cooper, who has rarely had to dish out such an indictment. “It was like we were stuck in mud all night.”
So maybe it was not a perfect evening all around. But it was sure nice to see a full house celebrate and cheer on a team that remarkably won two Stanley Cups in all of nine months.
The Lightning will be in Detroit on Thursday night and Washington on Sunday evening. They return home to play the Panthers on Tuesday.
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