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Tampa Bay Lightning Fans Kick Off Stanley Cup Playoffs At Curtis Hixon Park

The Tampa Bay Lightning began the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a loss Wednesday night. They were defeated by the Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 despite a strong first period.  

Curtis Hixon Park in downtown Tampa hosted an official NHL watch party, which included a concert by rock band Cage the Elephant before the game.

The park was packed with fans clad in Lightning attire, chanting things like, “Let's Go Bolts!” and “We Want the Cup!”

After the concert, an unofficial Lightning fan group known as Sticks of Fire led party attendees with tickets to the game on a march along the Riverwalk to Amalie Arena.

Debbie Kemp is a proud member of the group.

"We are always at the game,” she said, poking fun at her slightly hoarse voice. “Section 307 is basically the section our members sit in – they sit throughout the arena – but section 307 is the section for our members to sit in and chant all night long."

Fans who couldn't swing tickets stuck around to watch the game on big jumbo screens in the park.

They may have given Sticks of Fire a run for their money when the Lightning scored the first goal of the game within the first few minutes. People rose from their seats banging on free noisemakers that party organizers handed out earlier in the day.

Fans got out of their seats to cheer when the Lightning scored the first goal of the game.
Credit Stephanie Colombini / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
Fans got out of their seats to cheer when the Lightning scored the first goal of the game.

Despite three goals in that first period, the Lightning could not hold their lead against the Blue Jackets, who came back to win the game.

The Bolts face the Blue Jackets again on Friday for Game 2. Whoever wins four games first in the series will move onto the second round of playoffs.

John Gurrieri drove down to Curtis Hixon with his family from Ocala for the watch party.

He said he’s been a Lightning fan for seven years, so he knows how close the team has come to winning the Stanley Cup in recent years. He said he hopes  this year's record season gives them an advantage.

"62 wins, that's phenomenal!” he said, referring to the Lightning tying the NHL all-time record for most wins in a season. “We’ve got to win it this year, we have to, we can’t wait anymore.”

Aaron Sizemore, left, and Caroline Patterson.
Credit Stephanie Colombini / WUSF Public Media
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WUSF Public Media
Aaron Sizemore, left, and Caroline Patterson.

The first and only time the Bolts won the Cup was in 2004. That’s when Aaron Sizemore from New Port Richey said he became a fan.

This year he said he followed along all season long and intends to in the post-season as well. Sizemore said he will try to get a game if he can but otherwise:

“As many watch parties as possible and as much watching at work as I can," he said.

Official NHL Watch parties will be hosted at various spots around Tampa Bay for future games including Sparkman Wharf in Channelside, North Straub Park in St. Petersburg and Thunder Alley right outside the arena.

You can find a full schedule here.